Italian, UN Women role in Reducing Violence Against Women During Kenyan 2022 Vote

Representatives from the Italian and Kenya Governments, as well as UN Women, the UN, the Judiciary and Kenyan Foreign Policy pose for a group photo marking the end of phase 3 of Let It Not Happen Again

On April 14, 2022 Elizabeth Waithera, 39, an MCA aspirant, was attacked by goons during UDA party nominations in Mathare constituency. According to Waithera, the goons belonged to one of her opponents. Homarise Odote, the chief agent of MCA aspirant Roselyn Oyoko was attacked, assaulted and injured by goons during ODM party nominations in South Kabuoch ward. She also claimed the thugs had been dispatched by an opponent.

Kenyan female politicians have always faced violence and sexual assault during every election cycle, sometimes with tragic consequences.

However, in 2022, things were different; although some violence still occurred, the 2022 general election was far more peaceful than previous contests, with considerably fewer cases of violence against women (VAWE) reported. In addition, the fewer cases that were reported were not in the category of the gross violence witnessed in 2017 and previous years.

So what caused the difference in 2022?

It was deliberately brought about through a project dubbed “Let It Not Happen Again” funded by the Italian government. Following numerous distressing reports of Gender Based Violence (GBV) from the 2017 elections and from previous years, the Government of Italy and UN Women entered into a partnership in 2019 to do something about it. Let It Not Happen Again was the result, designed to enhance prevention of and response to GBV, and more specifically, violence against women in elections.

According to reports from various agencies including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR), the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and the National Gender and Equality Commission, in 2022 “the various duty bearers on elections were better prepared”. There was robust collaboration between various agencies during the 2022 elections in implementing gender-responsive early warning systems and contingency plans to respond to and prevent violence at both the national and county levels.

This outcome didn’t happen by accident. In the 3 years leading up to the 2022 elections, the Let It Not Happen Again partnership between Italy and UN Women helped train police officers using standardized knowledge products such as The Criminal Justice Manual on GBV, with specific reference to countering violence against women in elections. All 141 County commanders and 1160 more police officers in pre-identified violence hotspots were trained.

ITALIAN-AMB
The Italian Ambassador to Kenya, Roberto Natali, signs an agreement at a "Let It Not Happen Again" Ceremony at the Italian Embassy in Nairobi

 “These officers in turn trained other officers through the Police training institutes and other platforms like the Court Users Committees”, notes the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, which provided the funding. ” In addition, there were regular meetings between all concerned agencies and local communities to facilitate information sharing to Police and to implement early warning systems and contingency plans to prevent violence against female politicians”, the Agency added.

The Italian Government funded the project in its entirety, investing 900,000 Euros (140 Million Kenya Shillings) in three phases between 2019 and 2022.

The first phase focused on improving the legislative and policy environment in line with global standards on violence against women and the second phase focused on enhancing access to justice by victims.

 

The third phase, and perhaps the most important, enhanced the capacity of authorities to prevent and respond to violence against women in the 2022 elections.

As a result, for the first time in Kenya’s history, preventing and responding to violence against women in elections was specifically prioritized in the Electoral Security Arrangement Plan (ESAP 2022) which brought together government agencies, civil society and survivors.

2017 Violence: Perpetrators to be charged

For the first time in Kenya’s history, senior police officers will be among those charged and prosecuted with murder, rape and torture as crimes against humanity in the context of the 2017 elections. This follows the decision by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to prosecute the perpetrators.

This decision comes after training provided to the ODPP, IPOA and the National Police Service through the UN Human Rights agency (OHCHR) on how to investigate and prosecute sexual violence as a human rights violation and an international crime from the perspective of the survivor. This training was also part of the Let It Not Happen Again program.

Challenges Remain

Although a specialized GBV court has been established in Shanzu at the coast, more such courts are needed countrywide to tackle the cases reported to police and filed in courts.

According to Lady Justice Murgor, the Shanzu court is dealing with over 370 matters under the supervision of just one Magistrate. This workload is unsustainable, no matter how qualified the Magistrate. Moreover, the anti-FGM board is also in need of more financial support from the Kenyan government and donors.

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