Local authorities play a vital role in tackling Gender Based Violence (GBV) as well as providing services and raising awareness about the vice among the people and this is mainly owing to their proximity to the communities.
Figures released last week by the ministry of Internal Security concerning crimes registered in the first half of 2014, indicated GBV as one of the major crimes that remain high among those recorded by police.
Statistics for domestic violence, rape, sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence show that women and children are particularly vulnerable.
As crimes like these happen more often in different parts of our country, it is imperative for everyone in our respective capacities to take time and assess, in our respective capacities what role we can play to nip the problem in the bud; This includes media, civil society, central and local government and other institutions.
However, local government actually has the most critical role to play in creating safe communities in which women, men and children are free to live without fear of being attacked, raped or murdered.
Local government is the level of governance closest to the people, at community level. This is where GBV happens and thus local government can, and must, address GBV as a key service delivery issue.
This can happen in a number of ways;
To begin with, local government organs must put GBV on their core agenda. Their work is centered on the very communities and homes where most cases of GBV take place. It is imperative that GBV is tackled at all levels, using different approaches.
Fighting GBV should become a key service delivery issue for local government.
Poor mindset on gender equality is still deeply ingrained in our society, especially in rural community and local governments are at the coalface of service delivery and they must take concerted efforts to redress these issues within the community.
Addressing gender inequalities in local government must involve internal transformation as well as integrating gender considerations into key governance tools like performance contracts, accountability days and joint action forums, among others.
Without the active involvement of the community especially through mechanisms like community policing, security organs like police alone cannot decisively deal with domestic violence and this should spur local government to take the lead.
Local government makes it much easier for prosecutors, police and courts of law to do their work by ensuring their front desk officers dealing with domestic violence have the right training, attitude, knowledge, and skills and where they do not have them, employ them.
Such training will enable concerned employees to provide early intervention in households experiencing domestic violence, decreasing the long-term harm and financial costs.
Poor-quality interventions can lead GBV victims to disengage from services, reducing the likelihood that they will report violence to the police, and putting their life at risk of further harm.
Leadership at local levels that are committed to make such effective and positive interventions for GBV victims can significantly mitigate this problem.
One of the shortcomings however is that many local organs do not consider GBV as part of their core business. There is also lack of understanding about gender and gender equality in communities and as a result, myths about GBV are still abound and are acted out daily.
Linked to this is the stigma attached to GBV, and because of this, victims are afraid to report violence and speak out against it. Cultural norms and beliefs are also still deeply entrenched, keeping women marginalised.
Addressing GBV issues is about integrated, multi-sectoral, and year-long initiatives, with cooperation and collaboration between all spheres of government, NGOs, community-based organisations and community members. This is essential to both preventing and responding to GBV. It is imperative that all stakeholders tackle these in a collaborative way, and systematically.
These collaborations bring together different experiences and various kinds of expertise, in turn guaranteeing a holistic approach, resulting into successful programmes on the ground.
It is therefore more important than ever that local government is involved in breaking such barriers and addressing GBV issues whenever they occur. The continued cases of GBV show us that we have a long way to go to address failings in how we respond to GBV issues.
Local government is in a position now to take the lead in making sure that their areas are among the best at supporting GBV victims and holding perpetrators accountable.
The author is a Gender Expert