Can a Kenyan Peace Agreement
By Muadi Mukenge
February 12, 2008
The international community must support Kenyan women, promote
peace and send a message that sexual assault will not be tolerated.
While Kofi Annan gets closer to a peace agreement, the women of
Kenya are still paying for the devastating rise in sexual violence
in the post-electoral conflict.
Reported cases of rape and sexual attacks against women have
doubled in areas hit by political strife -- and the gangs who are
carrying them out are doing so with impunity. In a country with
HIV prevalence of 7 percent, this potentially amounts to murder
with no judicial redress.
Across the continent and beyond, women have, for years,
disproportionately borne the burden of conflict -- inspiring
groups like Unifem, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch
to join local advocates around the world in an international
campaign against sexual violence.
Kenya's post-electoral mayhem highlights a horrifying but less
well-known aspect to this trend: an increase in sexual violence in
the wake of flawed democratic processes that trigger uprisings.
While not new, it has too often been ignored. Let us not repeat
Shortly after the elections, the UN's Bureau for Crisis Prevention
and Recovery issued an urgent appeal to help Kenya's women;
funders and aid groups have a duty to respond. The Global Fund for
Women, the world's largest foundation committed solely to women's
rights, has supported the work of local activists addressing
gender violence for 20 years.
Following the outbreak of violence, we immediately joined an
alliance of women's organizations to support the Nairobi-based
Gender Violence Recovery Centre -- the only post-rape trauma
initiative of its kind in East Africa.
The Centre offered the victims of post electoral rape free post-
exposure HIV prophylaxis, comprehensive STI testing, pregnancy
testing, counseling, and referral to legal services. It is
critically needed work, yet it is only one initiative. We urge the
international aid community to do more.
Meanwhile, the courageous women of Kenya actively organized to
offer Kenya's most hopeful long-term avenue to peace. As Annan
inched closer to an agreement at the top, GROOTS Kenya, which
mobilizes women in poor slum areas, has been holding a series of
grassroots peace dialogues to bring divided communities together.
It is a powerful initiative. In Liberia, a similar movement
effectively forced rebel groups to reach an agreement to end that
country's civil war -- culminating in the election of Africa's
first woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Traditional security experts too often dismiss such efforts as
well-meaning but ineffective. They are wrong. Time and time again
women are proving the single most effective catalyst for conflict
resolution, and Kenya will be no different. We need to do far more
to empower such initiatives.
Finally, the international aid community -- including the U.S.
government -- must send a much clearer message that rape and
sexual assault will no longer be tolerated. While the global
campaign against sexual violence has helped move the agenda
forward, our leaders are not translating this into action. Women
all over the world are horrified by their failure.
We want to hear our foreign ministers and secretaries of state
explicitly condemn sexual violence. We want governments in
conflict zones to sign punitive sexual violence legislation. And
when they have signed it, we want them to advertise it and
aggressively enforce its provisions.
This is not the latest politically correct fad. This is a proven
way of addressing the wellbeing of 51 percent of the human race,
the economic livelihood of our children, and ultimately the best
chance for ensuring conflict ends and peace prevails.
We owe it to the world's women to take them seriously.