The Commonwealth has launched the first ever resource in East Africa to provide legal bench-marks on dealing with cases of violence against women.
The cutting-edge publication, which was launched yesterday in Nairobi, Kenya, establishes what constitutes violence against women and girls and how the judiciary can apply national laws in the context of international human rights laws.
Nearly 40 participants attended the launch, many of them senior members of the judiciary from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, according to a statement.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women globally has suffered some form of violence either at the hands of an intimate partner or a stranger.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, violence against girls in school is one of the major contributing factors to high school dropout rates for girls according to UN Women.
In her first days in office, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland identified ending violence against women as one of her priorities.
In a message to participants, she said: “Domestic violence is the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls.
It kills and injures more women and girls than anything else. My aspiration is that, together, we will reduce the aberrant impact of domestic violence in all our communities, and replicate the outcomes produced when I worked on this issue as a UK minister. We reduced domestic violence in the UK by 64 per cent, and the economic cost saving was £7.1 billion per year.”
The Secretary-General added the new bench books on violence against women provide guidance to judges in Asia and East Africa.
“They are designed to help judges make the right decisions, and to promote a greater understanding of violence against women, and the many forms it takes. The bench books are a practical tool to help end the impunity and continuing tolerance of attitudes and behaviours that are wholly unacceptable.”
The East African bench book identifies obstacles women reporting violence face in the justice system, such as bias in the court room, victimisation and failure of the judiciary to apply and interpret existing laws.
Its launch comes weeks before senior women leaders meet in London to develop a Commonwealth manifesto and action plan on gender issues and equality, and follows consultations with judicial officials across East Africa, who acknowledged gaps from a national and regional perspective.
Discussions will focus on capacity building, law reforms, the review of judgements in which legislative challenges have been identified, and dealing with victims, witnesses, counsel and the media. The role of support networks such as the UN and NGOs will also be highlighted.
The book will be shared with judiciary organs in the four Commonwealth East African countries, namely Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and will serve as best practice for other Commonwealth regions.
There are plans to launch another bench-mark book in Asia. The Secretariat will also provide technical assistance to member states to help the judiciary in East Africa adopt and implement the recommendations in the book.
Commonwealth gender expert Amelia Kinahoi Siamomua said: “This resource will not only deepen the understanding of violence against women, but will also raise awareness of the important role that judicial officials play in addressing this across the region.
“Our aim is that officials in East Africa will use this book, and really adopt its guidelines and implement it in their work, so that women and girls can be better protected against violence.”