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KENYA: Ill-equipped for election-related sexual violence

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Hundreds of women were sexually assaulted following Kenya's presidential election in December 2007
NAIROBI, 3 August 2010 (PlusNews) - On the eve of the referendum on the constitution that has divided Kenya, health workers fear they are not equipped to deal with a possible resurgence of the sexual violence that followed the December 2007 election.

"The best we can do is to give pain-killers and make referrals [to a hospital], but this is bad because maybe by the time a victim gets here and we do the referral, the damage is done," said Sylvan Muita, a clinical officer at the Mathare Health Centre, a facility run by the City Council of Nairobi. "We don't have any counsellors or even drugs for post-exposure prophylaxis [preventative antiretroviral treatment given within 72 hours after potential exposure to HIV]."

Mary Wambui, who was gang-raped and witnessed both her teenage daughters being raped during the post-election violence in 2008, is not taking any chances. "I hear the way some politicians talk and I know they can make people fight again," she said. "They [the government] keep telling us there will be peace but I don't want to risk my daughters again so I have taken them to the village." One of Wambui's daughters tested positive for HIV after the attack.

According to Peter Cherutich, head of HIV prevention at the National AIDS and Sexually transmitted infections Control Programme, there are 282 health facilities around the country that can provide post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). He said the government had not made any additional contingency plans for the referendum.

But many women are still unaware of the existence of PEP and what to do in case of a sexual attack. "When you are raped, where do you go? Maybe you just go to a VCT [voluntary counselling and testing] centre and ask them to test you to know if you were infected," said Lydia Nangia, a resident of Mathare.

Nangia said many women felt too ashamed and afraid to report a rape, especially as many perpetrators of post-election sexual violence had escaped justice.

''They [the government] keep telling us there will be peace but I don't want to risk my daughters again so I have taken them to the village''
Wambui, who was too afraid to go to the police, said the men who raped her and her daughters remained free in the community, behaving "like they didn't do anything bad".

Raising awareness

According to Teresa Omondi, executive director of the non-profit Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), at the Nairobi Women's Hospital - which treated more than 500 cases of sexual violence in the three months following Kenya's 2007 presidential poll - stigma is a major hindrance to women seeking services.

"There is a need to address the silence that comes with rape and even more importantly, to create awareness among women on where they can seek medical help and also on such things as post-exposure prophylaxis," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "This should be particularly done during electioneering periods."

The GVRC has already employed more volunteer counsellors and doctors and has brought in ambulances in readiness to deal with possible emergency cases of sexual violence during the referendum period.

"We don't want to believe there will be peace and be caught off-guard... we are also working with the various police stations in Nairobi," said Omondi, adding that it was crucial women felt they could trust the legal system to deal appropriately with perpetrators of sexual crimes.

"It is important to offer medical and psycho-social support to victims, but it is even more important to put measures [in place] to curtail rape by making those who do it face the law," she said.

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Theme(s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Early Warning, Gender Issues, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Conflict, Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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