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BBC Africa Eye investigates Kenya’s disturbing rise in cases of gender-based violence

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When the Covid pandemic hit Kenya, the number of cases linked to gender-based violence exploded as lockdowns forced many women indoors with their abusers.

In April 2021 Mary Mugambi was living as a single mother with her three kids. Her ex-husband wanted her back.

She says “He came in and when I awoke, he was holding a panga (machete). I asked him what the problem was as we had not argued. He started cutting me on the leg. He slashed my legs twice and once on my hand. My daughter heard the noise, and woke up. She saw that I was slashed and bleeding all over the house. When my daughter raised her head he struck her with the machete cutting her head and she died immediately.”

The life-threatening blows to Mary’s legs, arm and stomach left her unable to work, struggling to care for her remaining two children. Her two year old son witnessed the attack. Her ex-husband denies the allegations.

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Authoritative statistics are hard to come by but according to Kenya’s Demographic and Health Survey 40% of Kenyan women, married or once married, have suffered physical or sexual violence.

Calls to a national helpline rose by more than 300% in the first two weeks of the pandemic. Within a year, Kenya had recorded over 5000 cases of gender-based violence.

It has been described as Kenya’s ‘hidden epidemic’.

But activists say that the true scale of the problem is far bigger, with a combination of fear, stigma and a lack of trust meaning only an estimated 3% of domestic attacks are ever reported to the police. Even when they are, many cases can take years before reaching court.

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One organisation on the frontline fighting for survivors is Usikimye. It was co-founded in 2019 by Njeri Migwe and runs a safe house and a 24 hour helpline.

Njeri says “It’s terrifying. It’s scary. And the perpetrator will of course threaten you. And most people tend not to show up in court. So I wish there were a shorter time to finish the court cases, like let’s say 3 months, 6 months. So that these cases close when it is still fresh for the victims, and so that the victims can stop living in fear.”

In response to the rising number of cases, the Kenyan authorities have repeatedly stated their commitment to tackling gender-based violence, introducing a national tollfree helpline and allocating funding for one-stop support centres for survivors.

But among men, Gender based violence remains a largely taboo subject in Kenya. Africa Eye reporter Tom Odula investigates the deep-seated roots behind the crisis, discovers the trauma behind the shocking statistics, and explores the impact that Kenya’s sluggish legal system often leaves survivors with little hope of justice.

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Watch the news piece (8:40 mins):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-africa-60089165

Watch the full documentary on YouTube (26:32 mins):

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