More Than 16 Days: A Life Phases Approach to Gender-Based Violence

Day 3 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article is written by Eunice Kilonzo, a fourth year student at the University of Nairobi, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (Political Science and Communication). She believes she is the change she wants to see in the world, and one of these changes is seeing that “negative ethnicity,” a vice in her society, is curbed. Kenya has over 42 ethnic tribes and unfortunately, unity among them is somehow a façade. Thus through her blog, I am not my tribe, she writes and advocates against negative ethnicity.

There lacks a unanimous definition of what Gender Based Violence (GBV) is as it differs in countries, communities and the legal context. Murray Straus, of the University of New Hampshire however echoes it as aggression, as opposed to anger, with an intent to hurt or harm and can be expressed physically, verbally or by withdrawing. In terms of GBV more so directed to women; men exhibit higher levels of physical aggression than women, but that does not mean that men too are not victims of GBV. It cuts across class, race, age, religion and national boundaries. Sadly, children and the handicapped are minority groups who are often more at risk.

In 2010 Kate Nustedt, Executive Director of Women for Women notes that in times of war/conflicts a woman’s burdens only get heavier, her vulnerabilities more pronounced. She remains locked in poverty, often losing the protection of home and husband, coping with fear and suffering devastating rights violations and violence, including torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and mutilation.

The 2008/2009 Kenya Health and Demographic Survey (DHS) indicates that domestic violence is rife in Kenya. The survey revealed that 39% of women have been physically or sexually assaulted by their husband or partner. In addition, the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA) highlighted that gender based violence and intimate partner violence is on an upward spiral. However, sexual and gender-based violence is exacerbated by conflict and is a key risk factor for HIV/AIDS as illustrated in the Women for Women International report. It further advances that women, children, the mentally/physically incapacitated in conflict-affected settings lack the basic level of security, protection of rights and access to justice. This is evident following the Kenya’s post-election violence after the 2007 elections, where cases of sexual and gender based violence were witnessed. Aminata Diaw-Cissé recently insisted that “we cannot end gender-related violence without understanding the social construction which is the backdrop.”

Table 1: Types of Violence commonly experienced at various phases of the life cycle

Phase Type of Violence
Prenatal  Prenatal sex selection, battering during pregnancy, coerced pregnancy (rape during war)
Infancy  Female infanticide, emotional and physical abuse, differential access to food and medical care.
Childhood  Genital cutting; incest and sexual abuse; differential access to food, medical care, and education; child prostitution.
Adolescence Dating and courtship violence, economically coerced sex, sexual abuse in the workplace, rape, sexual harassment, forced prostitution.
Reproductive Reproductive Abuse of women by intimate partners, marital rape, dowry abuse and murders, partner homicide, psychological abuse, sexual abuse in the workplace, sexual harassment, rape, abuse of women with disabilities
Old Age Abuse of widows, elder abuse (which affects mostly women)

*Source: Heise, L. 1994. Violence Against Women: The Hidden Health Burden. World Bank Discussion Paper. Washington. D.C. The World Bank.

Clearly, Gender Based Violence is present in every phase of life, worse still if you are a woman. Gross breaches of human rights, which sometimes involve security institutions that are responsible for protecting women, contribute to the perpetuation of Gender Based Violence. There is thus an urgent need for legislation to be enacted to provide for avenues seeking redress all persons affected by GBV.


The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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