Silent Scars: Unveiling the Toll of Gender-Based Violence on Women’s Health in Kenya

by Amref Health Africa

Gender-based violence (GBV), in its physical form, inflicts enduring health consequences on women. This intricate issue, rooted in a myriad of factors including biological, social, cultural, economic, and political, transcends mere physical harm to deeply affect mental well-being.

According to the 2022 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Survey (KNBS), 34% of Kenyan women have experienced physical violence since age 15, with 16% facing it in 2021. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2020 report by UN women and KNBS revealed that 23% of urban women and 21% of rural women experienced physical violence within their homes, often inflicted by family or friends.

For every reported case of GBV, potentially three untold stories hide behind shadows of fear. These silent narratives unfold not only within homes but also resonate in social spaces and workplaces. Whether whispered in households, unspoken in social circles, or suppressed within workplaces, GBV persists as a pervasive issue that go beyond the boundaries of private and public life. The staggering 1:3 ratio underscores the depth of the problem, emphasizing the multitude of survivors veiled in silence, unable or afraid to share their stories.

GBV isn’t confined to heterosexual relationships; it occurs among individuals of the same gender as well. A 2010 CDC survey revealed that 44% of lesbians had experienced physical violence, compared to 35% of straight women. On the same study, 37% of men reported having experienced similar violence.

The health impact on women enduring physical violence is extensive with many suffering from depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Coping mechanisms often include substance abuse, leading to addiction with severe health consequences. Unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections exacerbate psychological trauma, while physical injuries can result in disabilities, compounding survivors’ challenges.

Social isolation, stemming from withdrawal due to the stigma, hampers the recovery process. Moreover, ear of shame and intimidation prevents timely medical care and support, prolonging healing for mental and physical health.

Efforts beyond statistical figures are urgently needed to dismantle barriers preventing survivors from speaking out. Society must provide emotional support and work collectively to empower survivors to break free from silence. Addressing GBV requires a comprehensive approach encompassing legal, social, and health interventions to support survivors, raise awareness, and prevent further occurrences. All stakeholders must commit to understanding and implementing strategies prioritizing women’s health and well-being, aiming for a society free from the damaging impacts of GBV.

A Story of Jane

“Most women in Nadapal believe that physical assault by husbands is a normal occurrence,” says Jane, a 22-year-old mother of one. “Women are not given priority to go to school and early marriages are acceptable”.

Jane represents many women who have experienced GBV in Kenya. In an abusive relationship for five years, she endures regular physical violence from her husband. One night, during a particularly violent altercation, Jane sustained multiple injuries, including a broken arm and bruises. Despite her pain, she hesitates to seek medical help due to fear of judgment and reprisal.

As days pass, Jane’s physical injuries heal, but the emotional trauma intensifies. Experiencing persistent anxiety, nightmares, and feelings of worthlessness, Jane isolates herself and suffers in silence, unable to confide in her community or friends due to the stigma surrounding GBV. Her mental health deteriorates further, leading to depression and thoughts of suicide.

This case study illustrates the profound and interconnected health impacts of GBV on women like Jane, highlighting not only the physical injuries but also the profound psychological and social consequences. By sharing stories like Jane’s, we can humanize the issue of GBV, fostering greater empathy and understanding among readers and underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive support services and community-led interventions to address GBV effectively.

Amref Health Africa is at the forefront of addressing GBV in various communities across Africa. Through community-based interventions, education, and advocacy programs, Amref works tirelessly to raise awareness about GBV, challenge harmful gender norms, and provide essential support services to survivors. By engaging with local leaders, healthcare providers, and community members, Amref strives to create safe spaces where survivors can access the care and support they need to heal and thrive. Together with communities, we are committed to building a future where every individual can live free from violence and discrimination.

The article was written by Rose Betty Mukii, Monitoring and Evaluation Associate, USAID Imarisha Jamii Project, Amref Health Africa in Kenya and Samuel Muhula, Senior Manager, Learning and Impact, Amref Health Africa (HQ)

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