OPINION: Rein in alcohol, substance abuse to stem surge in GBV cases

OPINION: Rein in alcohol, substance abuse to stem surge in GBV cases

“When violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change.” — US President Joe Biden

During a recent interview on BBC NewsDay, the show host Bola Mosuro sought to find out what is specific to Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Kenya, seeing as cases have increased globally. One of the contributing factors — drug and substance abuse — which was listed in the National Crime Research Centre report, was at the centre of the conversation.

Kenya’s situation caught international attention after the report revealed that GBV cases rose by 92percent, within the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic.

NCRC conducted the study at the behest of President Uhuru Kenyatta after he expressed concern over reports of a surge in GBV cases and teen pregnancies. For months, women’s rights groups in Kenya had been warning about the impact that COVID-19 restrictions were having.

Social and economic strains — compounded by cessation of movement — they said, made women and girls more prone to physical and sexual violence and more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

Indeed, the latest report found that 71percent of GBV cases reported in the first weeks of the pandemic were of female victims; that is, 10 girls/women per day.

The report — Protecting the family in the time of covid-19 pandemic: addressing the escalating cases of gender based violence, girl child disempowerment and violation of children rights in Kenya — found that majority of the perpetrators of GBV are males aged 18-33 who are in a family and/or intimate partner relationship setting.

Previous studies, still by the NCRC, have found that harmful use of alcohol is prominent when assessing contributing factors of gender based violence.

In 2014, 2018 and 2019 the research centre found that alcohol, drug and substance abuse contributed to GBV cases by 67.8percent; poverty (54.7pc); family/domestic disputes (49.3pc); retrogressive cultural beliefs and practices (25.3pc); male dominance (including undermining masculinity) 18.9percent; peer pressure (11.7pc) and weak law enforcement (9.1pc).

Disputing with women in private

Men who were interviewed at the time agreed to disputing with women in private especially on issues regarding refusal of sex; refusal to have children/more children; neglect of household duties and having another partner.

They also cited feminism, materialism and individualism, saying these are alien to African culture as well as the Christian and Muslim religion to some extent. Influence of social media and TV also came up.

With regards to COVID-19, stringent measures such as stay‐at‐home directives, lengthy school closures, movement restrictions, restricted gatherings, curfew, quarantine and isolation for the sick have ‘resulted in some abrupt socio-cultural and psychological shocks and re-orientations which some people find difficult to cope with.’

NCRC says this has led to mental health problems which include alcohol and drug abuse. Following the ban on sale of alcohol in some areas, reports indicate that Kenyans ‘hit the spirits as COVID-19 changed drinking habits.’

An article published in The African Report said there was sustained growth in spirit sales since beer is a social drink but spirits are more portable. “President Uhuru Kenyatta singled out young people going out and drinking alcohol as a factor that caused the virus to spread,” the report reads.

Substance abuse among children

71 cases of drug and substance abuse among children — which the agency reiterates is a form of violation of their rights — were recorded between January to March 2020; yet for the whole of 2017, there had been 59 cases reported by the Department of Children’s Services.

The 2020 figures might even be higher since the NCRC acknowledges that there might have been challenges in reporting of cases due to restrictions of movements that affected access to DCS offices and officers’ easy uptake of cases of violations.

Alcohol and substance abuse makes children vulnerable to defilement, incest, emotional abuse, sodomy, neglect, child-headed households, unlawful confinement and online abuse.

There were 1,643 cases of violations of children’s rights reported to the National Police Service during the first half of last year. According to the NCRC, the total number of cases of violations of children’s rights reported between January to June 2020 was more than those reported in 2018 and 63.4% of total cases for the full year in 2019.

Previous studies have shown that drunkard family members are among major perpetrators of violence against children. Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) found that male relatives ( fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers and sons) were the main perpetrators of the violence. In terms of age, majority (54.2%) of the perpetrators were aged between 18 and 33, out of whom 31.3% were males aged between 26 and 33 years.

Way forward

There is a high likelihood that violence against women and girls will increase as the pandemic persists and even afterwards, ‘because of the uncertainties and unpredictability of the pandemic’. The World Health Organization says impact of coronavirus will be felt for decades to come.

Subsequently, an additional 15 million women and girls across the globe will be affected by violence for every three months that a lockdown continues, the United Nations says.

Interventions to address GBV should have a multi-sectoral/agency approach and the government seems to be on course, finally treating this crisis with the seriousness it deserves.

However, aside from banning sale of alcohol in specific counties, there needs to be a more relentless approach in terms of sensitising people on the harmful effects of alcohol and substance abuse, not only to their bodies but also to their loved ones and the community.

Let us involve young people and their families in conversations about use of alcohol and drugs, from community to government level. Dealing with the root causes of alcohol and substance abuse — which we can only find out if engage with citizens — is the best way to move forward and begin to rein in the surge of gender based violence cases.

Rachel Ombaka is a journalist at Citizen TV Kenya


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