Kiengu village in the outskirts of Maua town in Meru County, epitomizes the tranquility of a normal Kenyan village. The welcoming lush green vegetation breaths a sense of fresh air and calmness. The streams of water crisscrossing the village create a serene ambience of a village endowed with natural resources.
The mother of two was now struggling to make ends meet at home as the sole bread winner. She says as the country was grappling with cushioning it’s citizens from the deadly virus, she was cushioning her home from disarray, as her husband had abandoned them when he could not support the family economically.
Getting into Kayole, an informal settlement within Nairobi, is not a walk in the park. The place is a beehive of activities, as everyone busies themselves with the hustle and bustle of eking a living. At the Masimba junction, we meet Raphaela Wangari, busy tidying up her shop. She has just received a new stock of eggs to add to what she had. Minutes later, her general store, commonly referred to as a duka, is a swam of activities as clients line up to buy basic commodities found at her shop.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, government enforced social distancing restrictions among them the stay at home order in a bid to suppress transmission of the Coronavirus and keep people healthy, but for many women and girls home became a ‘danger zone’ as they were forced to be in the ‘lockdown’ with their abusive spouses, partners and family members and cut off from supportive network and resources that could help them.
The ordeal of one evening morning in early July, brings gloomy memories to 38 year old *Nafula (not her real name). Her husband of three years had turned against her; what started as verbal insults progressed real quick into physical leaving her bruised.
“It was not the first time that he was abusive to me. At one point he hired goons to beat me up,” recounts Nafula.
Nafula’s own abusive experiences form part of the statistics of countless women and girls whose lives have been affected by the wave of gender based violence during the pandemic. In December 2020, a report by the National Crime Research Center indicated that incidences of gender based violence had increased by 92 percent in the period of January and June compared to that of January and December in 2019, with murder, sexual offences, defilement, grievous harm, physical abuse, child neglect and child marriages taking the larger chunk of cases.
Similarly, the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) has received increased cases of women and girls reporting violations. On average, CREAW would received 20 cases in a month, with the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers have spiked to 34 cases necessitated by the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on women and girls. Consequently, the demand for legal and counselling support was on the rise.
Amidst the surge, CREAW rolled out a 24 hour hotline-0800-720-186 to help survivors like Nafula to access support services virtually including legal information, counselling, access to safe shelters and referrals to other GBV services.
With the support from grassroots community champions and messaging on community radios and social media, CREAW has been able to publicise the hotline that now have over flow of cases reported even from the counties in the outskirts of Nairobi.
“Through the hotline, survivors are able to get timely legal aid services, information and psycho-social support to rebuild their lives,” says Nereah Oderah, the lead Counsellor who supports survivors through the helpline.
With the support from UNDP, CREAW has adapted its interventions to provide free tele-counselling and pro-bono legal services to survivors of gender based violence among them, women and girls who reside in the informal settlements of Nairobi. A total of 597 GBV survivors benefitted from pro-bono legal assistance & advice during the pandemic period.
We meet Neema* (not her real name) in the informal settlements of Kawangware where she has been living for six months since her husband of 10 years beat her and threw her out in the cold in the wee hours of the night with her two children.
“For the last 10 years I have been married to him, there has never been peace in our home. Occasionally, we would fight even on the slightest provocation,” she says, adding that everything changed when she lost her job; her husband threw her and her two young children out in the cold, and she was left to fend for her children with no income in sight.
Sadly Neema* is not the only one facing domestic violence: her experience mirrors that of many women and girls who are increasingly being trapped with their abusers at home.
With the raging cases of COVID-19 pushing households into economic slumps, women and girls “locked” with their abusers are also finding it difficult to seek safety away from violence marred homes- cutting them off from their supportive networks and resources that could help them.
Like Neema, Kadija ( not her real name) is also another survivor of domestic violence from the informal settlements of Kibera. It has only been a month since she left the shelter where she had sought refuge after receiving constant abuse from her husband that only worsened during the pandemic.
“I am unemployed and depended on my husband. Because of the pandemic, he received a pay cut and we could barely afford to pay for food and rents. Many times we would fight even over minor things. I feared for my life and that of my children,” says 29-year-old Kadija who is now separated with the husband.
As the pandemic keeps raging on, CREAW’s owned hotline-0800720186 has been a buzz with women and girls making frantic calls to report violations and seek legal and referral services. On average, the hotline receives 90 cases in a month, this compared to 20 cases during the same time last year. Similarly, the rising incidences of violence against women and girls have been further affirmed by the data from the National gender based violence (GBV) hotline 1195, indicating a 55 percent surge with women accounting for nearly 70 percent of those cases.
With the pandemic disrupting access to essential support services to survivors of GBV, CREAW, with the support from UNDP Kenya, adapted its intervention in the community during the pandemic to ensure that women and girls- survivors, especially those living in the informal settlements of Nairobi receive the much needed support to heal and build resilience beyond the pandemic.
This includes, free legal information and representation, psychosocial support to help survivors heal from their traumatic experiences. In-addition, CREAW also integrated the survivors to the existing livelihood cash reliefs intervention supported by the European Union in Kenya and shelter services as they reorganise their lives.
By Grace Katee
Dressed in purple and white; a sign of royalty and peace- they all came to witness the climax of the journey they had travelled so long. 12th September 2019 it a was! A new dawn reckoned and the little known women group, Wima Women Empowerment network (WIMA), was now a fully-fledged community based organisation.
Three years ago, 33 WIMA members came together with a soul purpose to eliminate cases of gender based violence (GBV) that was ailing communities in Kilifi. At the time, GBV matters were only spoken in undertones and most cases would go unreported because of the cultural constrictions.
It is such barriers that also continue to chain women voices- and when the silence was too loud, WIMA’s actions to change societal attitudes and norms became louder. Through their network, they continued to build momentum, galvanising support from the various community (chiefs, Kaya elders, women) and county government structures to free women from the chains of gender inequalities.
And as Helda Tujara tells us, the community dialogues they have held in the community have created spaces for men and women to reflect on power imbalances at family level and how best to parent children- giving them equal educational opportunities for better future.
“Pictorial exhibitions showcasing the effects of domestic violence have helped stimulate conversations, educated communities and translated into change of perceptions and community support in actions geared towards addressing violence against women and girls,” a happy Helda tells us.
Helda and other members of WIMA are proud to have been supported by the Haki Yetu Jukumu Letu project implemented by CREAW in Kilifi and Meru Counties with the support from the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kenya.
Through the project, WIMA members were trained on the laws that appertain to gender based violence, citizen-led social accountability, budget monitoring and accountability. From the knowledge, they have built collective agency, risen to break the silence and demanded for accountability in GBV service delivery.
Helda who has been the chairlady of WIMA since its onset, explains to us that the passion to protect women and girls from the scourge of GBV drove them to work with a unity of purpose.
“We wanted girls to thrive and women to live in peaceful households with their families.
Currently, the skyrocketing teen pregnancy statistics hoovers over our heads. We must start over and parent our children properly,” says Helda noting that it is that moment that actors, parents and community as a whole took action.
As the chairlady, she speaks strongly on inclusivity. “Women and girls are a critical mass in communities. Thus, they also have a voice in the decisions that affects the larger community. We do it not for us but for the benefit of the entire community,” she says.
At the core of their work is empowerment; as they strengthen their knowledge and build confidence on community work, they have also ensured that other line stakeholders and county structures are enjoined in their activities.
“As GBV champions, we are well known in the community and the county also recognizes us. During the budget making processes, we are given chance to participate and present our issues,” says Sophia Suleiman also a longtime member of WIMA. Such endeavours have helped in improving government responsiveness to the needs of women and girls.
For the first time in Kilifi since the onset of the devolved government, a fully fledged gender department was established owing to the efforts of WIMA. And as Sophia tells us, theirs is a vision that calls for a responsive government and a supportive community to address the plight of survivors.
“Among us, are also the referral champions who continuously receive cases from communities
Last year, WIMA was among the stakeholders appointed by the County Government of Kilifi to look into the issue of teen pregnancy- and even though the report of the task force is yet to be made public, they are happy to be part of the team that would deliver change to many young girls in Kilifi.
“We hold conversations with bodaboda riders to change their behaviours since they have been the largest perpetrators of sexual violence against children. With that, we are making them champions and defenders of the rights of women and girls to reduce child pregnancies,” says Saumu Mwadime who represents WIMA at the teen pregnancy task force.
WIMA’s progressive endeavours are not only felt by the women and girls but the entire community. They lobbied and advocated for good infrastructure within their localities to improve safety and security. Last year, their actions saw the establishment of the Chasimba Police station- the first in Chonyi since time immemorial.
Apart from that, they have also been supporting survivors through their legal journeys; providing psychosocial support and legal information. These has gone along way in helping survivors navigate the often tedious justice system, hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and help survivors heal from the harm done to them.
Fast forward, here they are- living in the moment and helping their communities build sensitivity to the rights of women and girls. Continuously, they network with line partners to device local solutions to the emerging issues in the county.
“We have the power and thus change is the only thing that is inevitable. Our work continues,” concludes Laura Wawuda who represents the youthful wing of WIMA.
Writing by Christine Ogutu