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Key findings
  • Kenyans identify gender-based violence (GBV) as the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and society need to address.
  • More than two-thirds (68%) of Kenyans say violence against women and girls is not a common phenomenon in their community. Three in 10 (31%) disagree, including 40% of poor citizens and 43% of those with no formal education.
  • Eight out of 10 Kenyans (81%) say men are “never justified” in using physical force against their wives.
  • Most citizens (79%) consider it “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that the police will take GBV cases seriously.
  • But seven in 10 Kenyans (69%) say that domestic violence should be treated as a private and not a criminal matter, and 59% think women are likely to be criticised, harassed, or shamed if they report gender-based violence to the authorities.

The stabbing death of world-class runner Agnes Jebet Tirop at her home in Kenya last year, allegedly at the hands of her husband, focused a global spotlight on a persistent menace to the country’s women and girls (Bieler & Boren, 2021). According to Kenya’s most recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), almost half (47%) of women aged 15-49 reported that they had experienced either physical or sexual violence (National Bureau of Statistics, 2014).

Gender-based violence (GBV) makes grisly headlines in Kenya (Odhiambo, 2018) but more often remains hidden as many survivors never file complaints or retract their complaints in favour of settlements at the family level (Kenya Crime Research Institute, 2014).

In 2021, the government announced a set of commitments to fight GBV, including increased funding for prevention and response, development of a GBV management and information system, scale-up of the police service’s response to GBV, and establishment of GBV recovery centers and shelters in all 47 counties (Equality Now, 2021).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9(2021/2022 questionnaire to assess Africans’ perceptions and experiences of gender-based violence.

The survey findings identify GBV as the most important women’s-rights issue in Kenya. While a strong majority of citizens say men are never justified in using physical force against their wives, they also consider it likely that women will be criticised, humiliated, or shamed if they report cases of GBV, though they do think the police will take such reports seriously.

A large majority of Kenyans regard domestic violence as a private matter rather than a criminal matter requiring the involvement of law enforcement.

Mercy Kaburu

Mercy Kaburu is an assistant professor of international relations at United States International University-Nairobi, Kenya.

Alfred Kwadzo Torsu

Alfred Torsu is a data analytics officer for Afrobarometer. He has a master’s in public policy analysis from Michigan State University.