Personal Stories on Gender Based Violence

Title page: Gender based violence

A publication by the GIZ Health Sector Programme in Kenya in collaboration with the Gender Violence Recovery Centre at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, Kenya, 2012

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A special award

On December 18, as GIZ’s Africa Department pronounced the winners of this year’s Gender Price, a Special Award was given to an exceptional book project. In the book’s introduction, Klaus Hornetz, former team leader of GIZ’s health programme in Kenya, explains how the idea for this book was born:

Gender Based Violence is still a taboo issue

All over the world there is a tendency for society to banish Gender Based Violence (GBV) from its consciousness. It is often found on the agenda of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the civil society, and human rights groups and through the United Nations at an international level. But making it a priority at a national level is complicated as it concerns many sensitive issues such as sexuality, rape-within-marriage and harmful traditional practices.

A project for survivor’s of Kenya’s post-election violence

It is not impossible, though, for a nation to actively address such issues as former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi proved when declaring AIDS a national disaster in 1999. The idea for this book was first discussed in the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya in early 2008. In response to the gender-based violence during this period, GIZ was involved in developing a project that would guarantee free treatment of all survivors in the country’s two major GBV treatment centers; (Nairobi Women’s Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret). In reflecting on our contribution to this project, Lucy Kiama (Executive Director of Refugee Consortium of Kenya), Ann Njogu (Executive Director of CREAW) and I discussed the need to document stories.

Starting a dialogue about GBV in Kenya

What we wanted to produce were materials to help establish and maintain dialogue about GBV in Kenyan society and to tell the stories that would have remained untold. We also wanted recognition of the fact that GBV does not just happen during times of national crisis but that it is an unfortunate reality in the daily lives of many Kenyans. As the partnership between GIZ and Nairobi Women’s Hospital expanded, the idea of the publication of a book on GBV was born. It felt like a good alternative to a dry NGO-type report, presented in a hotel seminar room to a small group of people already working around the issue. In other words “preaching to the converted”.

Capturing the voices of the most affected

While dialogue about GBV in Kenya and the international community mostly happens through experts, ministerial and donor bureaucrats, we felt that we needed to capture the voices of those affected, their families and their communities. We also wanted to give a platform to people trying to help those affected to overcome thephysical, social, economic and structural problems associated with GBV. “But, speaking, even when it embarrassed me, also slowly freed me from the shame I felt. The more I struggled to speak, the less power the rape, and its aftermath, seemed to have over me.“ Nancy Raine, After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back, 1998.

For some contributors, such as Khadija, Rhoda, Samuel and Hassan, the book allowed them to speak about their experiences, knowing that their words would be heard and this in itself would become a “therapeutic project”. The testimonies in this book capture not only the facts but also the emotions, which the (mostly nightmarish) facts generate. In stories such as Njeri’s and Tina’s, we hear their pain, the agony of coping and the struggle to heal.

European prejudices

The Ugandan feminist lawyer and academic, Sylvia Tamale, recently described the effects of prejudices when looking at (African) sexualities from a European perspective:

“Beginning with the first contact with African communities, researchers from the global north maintained voyeuristic, ethno-pornographic obsession with what they perceived as exotic (rich, perverse) African sexual cultures…” As they “… set out…. to explore and study the sexual artifacts and traditions of Africans, African culture and sexuality were always framed as different…. and inferior to those of the west…. The standard approach was to view these sexual cultures as primitive, bizarre and dangerous and apply a knee-jerk reflex to “fix” them.” 

The roots of a culture of impunity

GBV in Africa should not be understood as an “exotic” manifestation of an alien culture but as a symptom of poor economic/social development, poor governance and poor functioning of state organizations and other structures. Economic and social development affects GBV in two ways: one relates to the magnitude and causes of GBV, the second to the way the state and society deal with the problem. Colonial heritages, poverty, insecurity, tribal conflicts and high level of gender-injustice all contribute to its high prevalence. Poor governance, poorly performing public institutions, a lack of capacity to enforce the rule of law all lead to the culture of impunity that often characterizes a country’s response to the problem.

We hope that our readers can go beyond the descriptions of violence in this book. Recent changes in Kenya, as outlined in the book, are very encouraging. These changes concern the passing of laws and of the constitution, all aiming to bring an end to impunity and gender-based discrimination. There is also a drive to develop committed leaders and professionals who work to change the face of the country and bring an end to violence.

Seeds of Hope

This book carries deep and heavy stories of pain, fear, shame, anger, doubt, emptiness, hopelessness and misery caused by GBV. Out of the gloom, some of the testimonies break into hope as men, women, children, parents, doctors, nurses, judges, communities, leaders, politicians, police officers, lawyers and elders work against the odds to mitigate GBV. The book, and in particular the stories of Hassan, Rawi, Peter, Tina, Violet and Njoroge should serve as a reminder that people who are affected by GBV can heal, move on with their lives and find the strength to help others through their stories, their actions and their courage.

It is our heartfelt wish is that this book will break the silence on stories of violated women, men and children that would otherwise never have been told and develop a basis upon which children, men, women, civil society actors and policy makers can explore, understand and take action against GBV.

Klaus Hornetz



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