April 04 2018 0Comment

Strengthening Court Users Committees to effectively address gender based violence

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 ushered in a new era for the judicial systems in Kenya. It provided for the establishment of the Court Users Committees (CUCs) at the National and County level. This was to provide a platform for key actors in the administration of justice and the public to participate in efforts to strengthen the judicial processes as well as create solutions to the challenges in the delivery of justice.

Prior to the constitutional dispensation, there existed low public confidence in the judiciary associated with the long and complicated judicial processes especially when it came to matters gender based violence and the laws that prohibit acts of domestic violence, female genital mutilation and sexual offences. These problems also included the corruption that compromised judicial officers; the technicalities involved in the administration of justice and lack of clear communication or feedback channels between the judiciary and the consumers of justice.

It is against this backdrop that CREAW works with CUCs in Meru and Kilifi counties with an aim to ensure that due process of the law is followed for GBV cases and matters are handled in a timely manner. Through the Haki Yetu, Jukumu Letu project, CREAW has been sensitising the CUC members who include state and non-state actors on gender based violence issues with an aim to bridge the gaps that exists in addressing such cases among the judicial officers and communities.

“The CUC has created an enabling environment for us to discuss issues that affects communities on daily basis. We not only prioritize on GBV issues but also on issues of succession and land,” said Harrison Wachira who is a Prosecutor at the Githongo law Courts in Meru County.

The key actors who constitutes the Githongo Law Courts CUC includes the police, civil society organizations, local administration, Magistrates among many others.

During the first one year of project implementation, CREAW worked to train members of the CUC on their roles in expediting justices and coordination mechanism that went in line to strengthen the GBV referral pathways within the lager Meru.

Wachira explains that at the Githongo Law Courts most cases that are reported are on sexual offences and physical assault that are sometimes associated with fights in liquor dens and issues of land and succession between among married couples.

“The CUC meets quarterly with key agendas generated by the members depending on the prevailing circumstances and the matters that are arising in the community. Currently the sexual offences have gone up; for the period of November and January many cases of defilement were reported making it our major agenda when we will be having our next meeting for the first quarter of 2018,” Wachira adds.

The CUCs works with the local administration structures who are also members and the first point of referral on GBV cases and crime committed in the villages to sensitize communities during the weekly barazas with an aim to empower communities to provide support to GBV survivors and ensure their rights are upheld at all times.

“The sensitization in the community has improved the way in which communities report cases. The impacts to which have been reflected in the decrease of sexual offences reported within Githongo and Nkubu areas,” notes Wachira.

According to the data from the Court registries, Nkubu Law Courts registered 43 cases of sexual offences in 2016. The number has however gone down to 32 in 2017; a reduction attributed to the increased gender sensitivity, responsiveness and interdisciplinary engagement of the court with other stakeholders where the magistrates have also initiated public baraza at the grassroots.

“When in the communities without the Court uniforms the communities are able to share their felt needs and problems without any fear. We interact and they are able to share their experiences and challenges in the households,” says Wachira.

He adds that “Educated communities will rarely engage in acts of violence and therefore it is critical that the momentum is sustained in sensitizing the community on issues such as defilement and domestic violence that has for a long time affecting many school going children.”

The patriarchal nature of communities living in the larger Meru County is however an impediment to the anti-GBV war. “The gendered norms and practices does not take into consideration the right of women to inherit matrimonial properties. People still feel that women have no right to inherit land hence the squabbles between men and women,” he notes.