A Commonwealth handbook launched today will help East African judicial officers proactively handle cases of violence against women and girls (VAWG), which affects up to one in three women in their lifetime.
The case law handbook offers judges and magistrates analysis of notable VAWG cases, helping to guide their approach by offering reference to similar proceedings in Commonwealth East Africa.
Case Law Handbook on Violence Against Women and Girls in Commonwealth East Africa, looks at eight incident types of violence against women and girls: defilement, rape, sexual assault, physical assault and domestic violence, child early and forced marriage, psychological abuse, economic abuse, female genital mutilation and other gender-based violence such as sexual harassment and the sexual trafficking of women.
Speaking at the launch in Nairobi, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “Violence against women and girls remains persistent and pervasive not just in the Commonwealth but across the world.”
“This Case Law Handbook has been developed by judges in East Africa as a contribution to the development of the jurisprudence of equality. This will present leading cases of relevance to these jurisdictions and is intended to add to local manuals, guideline or handbooks that reflect local processes.”
The handbook presents positive steps taken in East Africa, including Rwanda’s broad mechanism to report sexual assault, and Kenya’s anti-female genital mutilation unit. It finds that women reporting violence face many problems such as social pressure, biases in court or legal incapacity. Much violence goes unreported with such incidents considered private matters rather than criminal.
VAWG is one of the four priorities Commonwealth ministers for women’s affairs agreed at their meeting in Samoa in 2016. This global problem has been shown not only to have long-term physical and mental health impact but also to slow social development.
The handbook advises that the judiciary has the ‘means to support behavioural change and deterrence’. For example, it reports a clear decrease in the practice of female genital mutilation since laws have been introduced and offenders have been prosecuted.
The Secretary-General launched the handbook in Kenya during the 12th Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting. The book focuses on four Commonwealth East African countries, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, but will serve as a touchstone for other countries and regions.
The Commonwealth’s rule of law adviser, Elizabeth Bakibinga, said: “Judges have used our Judicial Bench Book, launched in 2016, to give verdicts on cases of VAWG and have made ground-breaking changes to legislation in their respective judiciaries.
“Such cases are now included in this Case Law Handbook launched today. Legal professionals from each country who contributed to this book have been sensitised to advocate for change to the laws governing their countries.”
In 2016, the working group responsible for the Judicial Bench Book on VAWG in Commonwealth East Africa requested the Commonwealth to produce this handbook.