Data is an invaluable tool for advocates. It allows us to show policymakers GBV’s society-wide ramifications, its pervasiveness and the urgent need for action. But there are ways to create and use this data to better our ability to call for more effective policies to address GBV.
Early in my law career, there was a noticeable disconnect between data and advocacy efforts. Researchers pursued their work separately from advocates and policymakers, resulting in very ineffective strategies… There was limited collaboration and information sharing between government agencies, NGOs, and civil society organizations and researchers, which limited the effectiveness of a multi-pronged approach to addressing gender-based violence.
Over time, data and advocacy initiatives have begun to be perceived as tools that can and should coexist harmoniously. Advocacy efforts have led to changes in legal frameworks, such as the 2015 Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, which has paved the way for more robust data collection and analysis. The synergy between advocacy and data has been evident in the formulation and implementation of these laws.
Kenya, like many other countries, faced challenges in effectively addressing online violence and harassment due to limitations in existing laws and regulations. Online violence and cyberbullying often fell into a legal gray area, making it difficult to hold perpetrators accountable. These challenges were not unique to Kenya but were prevalent in many parts of the world. The Kenyan Demographic and Health Surveys and VACS have been important tools in advocating for policies that address the evolving nature of sexual violence. The recent 2022 Amendment of the Children’s Act and the 2018 Computer Misuse & Cybercrimes Act are examples of the how advocates have been able to leverage this data to show the need for urgent action.
Despite this progress, there are still critical gaps to be filled in terms of the ways in which data is presented to policymakers, what data is collected and the barriers that many advocates face as they attempt to access it.
Based on my experience as a lawyer, advocate and survivor, I believe there are three critical steps to address these gaps in how we use and gather data.
The effects of gender-based violence are universally significant, regardless of the country.
As advocates, we need to contextualise GBV not as a problem that only affects women and girls, but as a scourge that harms society at all levels.
Just as an example, when GBV surges, it often leads to the breakdown of families, which can result in children dropping out of school. Consequently, these children face limited access to education and are compelled to take up less qualified jobs, perpetuating the cycle of poverty within their families.
On the other hand, girls who have not experienced this abuse are able to attend and finish school. They may even go to attend university. This will put her in a much better position to find employment, and in turn, contribute to the national economy.
Gender equity advocates must stress the impact that teenage pregnancy and child marriage can have on a country’s economy and education levels, as well as the intergenerational ramifications of this violence, that extends to these girls’ children.
This is just one of the innumerable impacts of GBV, and it is important to acknowledge that data on these issues must be available for advocates to be able to present evidence to policymakers, which ties in with my next point.
The growth in data over time has provided us with the ability to measure and evaluate the impact of past GBV interventions. Comprehensive disaggregated data is critical to delve deeper into what allows GBV to happen and its society-wide impacts on the national economy, education levels and health of the country, among other areas.
But we are now finding that, even as we have more data than ever, it’s not comprehensive and disaggregated enough to adequately reflect the causes and consequences of GBV that advocates need to effectively engage with policymakers.
Disaggregated data paints a more detailed picture of how GBV does not impact everyone the same. Gender, race, disability, and age can all impact a person’s experience of GBV. These intersecting forms of discrimination must be reflected in GBV data to help advocates contextualise this issue and have a deeper understanding of it, to ensure that GBV prevention strategies are designed to address these inequities.
While we have seen that the use of data in advocacy is growing, we need to acknowledge and address the barriers that many advocates still face when trying to access and utilize this data.
These can be language barriers, since most of the research on GBV is conducted in English and only minimally translated into other languages. Other barriers include limited internet access, a lack of smartphones or weak networks with researchers and other stakeholders in the GBV space.
These barriers make it difficult or even impossible for many advocates to access these data. Importantly, many of these barriers are often faced by grassroots advocates in low and middle income countries.
For this reason, it is crucial that data practitioners take these barriers into account and that the GBV space moves towards creating more accessible data to maintain and grow advocates’ ability to utilize it as they engage with policymakers.
We know that data is an invaluable tool for advocates, as it allows us to show policymakers GBV’s society-wide ramifications, its pervasiveness and the urgent need for action.
But we must also acknowledge that there are steps to be taken to ensure data is comprehensive and accessible. By creating evidence on how different demographics are affected GBV, and by removing barriers to access, we can be more effective in calling for effective policies to address GBV.
Recent developments in Kenya’s legislation show that when we are able to use data, policymakers are better equipped to create laws that actually address the evolving nature of sexual violence in the country.