This year as the world marks the 30th anniversary of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV), many women and girls are still grappling with the vice, with one in three women globally still experiencing violence.
Prior to the pandemic, violence was already a daily reality for many women and girls in Kenya with at least 41 percent reporting to have experienced either sexual or physical violence among other forms of GBV.
During the pandemic however, we have seen aggravated levels of violence against women and girls compounded by the preexisting gender inequalities.
Government data shows that GBV cases increased by 92 percent in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Majority of these cases were perpetrated by intimate partners, close family members and persons known to survivors. It is a sequence that continues to go unabated.
It is a concern that Leticia Achieng, a survivor of intimate partner violence believes we must change to create safe households and communities for women to enjoy dignified lives.
In the Kibera settlements where she resides, it is not uncommon to hear screams of women being battered at night, or reports of incidences of women being killed by their spouses and some sustaining serious injuries that maim their lives forever.
“Taking lessons from my experiences, I believe communities must start by changing their mindsets and deal with the systemic inequalities that silences women and girls and enables perpetrators to thrive,” she says.
Across communities, a growing evidence show that gendered norms and power imbalances drives violence against women and girls. Evidently, men hold the preponderance of power in families, communities, work places, institutions and politics. The reality of this power imbalances, means that men are the main perpetrators of violence against women and girls, as well as boys and other men. To shift the narrative, Achieng believes it starts from home.
As a mother of two teenage boys, she says she has been intentional on how she nurtures and brings up her boys from when they were young. She notes that parenting young boys to grow up to men who respect women starts from home.
“I believe, good naturing starts from home and thus education must start when they are young, then they will assimilate the attitudes and actions as they grow up,” says Achieng.
“Bullying has become so rife in schools and parents don’t talk about it. When a child pushes, punches or smacks another, we hail them and excuse their violent behaviours,” she adds, noting that with good role modelling, we can change the path for our children and communities when it comes to addressing violence against women and girls.
Growing up, Achieng says she never saw her father treat her mother with respect. He was abusive to everyone in every way. I grew up knowing women should be submissive to men. The repeated forms of violence I faced made me realize that there is more to life other than being silenced by violence.
“Oftenly we caution women to dress ‘decently’ not to give the wrong impression, reason being, we are protecting them! I believe we must do better. It takes us all to teach our boys about consent and equal treatment of women in all spectrum,” she says.
In Kibera where Achieng lives, CREAW has been engaging communities in conversations to shift the narratives of male violence towards women and girls, issues of rape, defilement, femicide and other forms of intimate partner violence has been more prevalent during the pandemic. Achieng has been attending these community dialogues that she says has empowered her to challenge actions and attitudes that drives violence against women and girls in her community.
In the global arena and even here in Kenya, the wave of #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have amplified the voices of survivors to speak out on abuses and more so the everyday sexism that women and girls contend with at home, in the streets and just everywhere. With such widespread on violence against women, communities must be assertive enough and devise solutions to bring up men who respects and protect women and girls.
“I am raising my boys to respect women and girls but I know, it is not just the responsibilities of mothers but all in the community. I am raising my sons to use their power positively and the importance of equality,” says Achieng.
To address the various forms of violence against women and girls, CREAW continues to initiate and adapt interventions across communities. We are educating women and girls like Achieng to rise up and use their voices to claim their rights and demand for accountability from communities and authorities to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls.
In 2013, Kenya enacted a Matrimonial Property Act that drew hope for the women of Kenya in their quest to own and inherit matrimonial land and properties. The Act reinforced equal rights as enshrined in the Constitution for both spouses when they own properties together and granted some new rights to women landowners.
Despite the many monumental gains for individual women in Kenya, pastoralist women still have the long road to walk; their hope of justice to what legally and inherently belong to them is deemed by the cultural traditions and lack of awareness that stops many women from accessing their fair share of land and property, especially in cases of inheritance.
*Naserian (not her real name) is the youngest wife among three other co-wives, her life has been marred with violence and for along time she did not have a voice in her own home. Her husband beats her up and does not consult her on any issue regarding land or the sale of properties.
Recently, she met Jane Marsoi a renowned women’s rights activist at a community dialogue-teaching women on their rights and the power inequalities that discriminates on women. There, she learnt that she also had a voice over what concerns her life and that of her family. It is then that she took action!
“By virtue of their gender, women’s property rights have been trampled- they are never consulted by their spouses when selling land,” says Jane while explaining to us that many women are helpless, it is depicted in the lack of awareness of their rights.
“I was glad when Naserian approached me to help her; I explained to her the right channels to report to,” Jane adds.
Naserian says she felt something was a miss when a stranger started farming on the family’s land. On inquiring, she was informed that the husband had sold the land without consulting her. When she confronted the husband, she beats her up till she was unconscious. She spent one week in hospital nursing the wounds. Undeterred, she resolved to explore the legal channel to access matrimonial lands.
Together with Jane, they approached the area Chief who summoned the husband and gave and injunction to those who had bought the family lands.
Today Naserian smile is noticeable, she tells us she got her share of the land and is happy that she can farm and provide food for her children and meet other basic needs.
With the Matrimonial Property Act in Action, women now have equal rights to the land that is bought and sold in their name. In cases of polygamous marriages, each wife now has a right to a portion of the lands. The law also takes into account the non-monetary contribution in marriages- including domestic work, home management, childcare and farm work.
And as Jane tells us, the teachings that CREAW has accorded the activists in the area have enabled them to brave through the societal ridicules to stand up to the male dominated Council of Elders in a bid to secure women’s rights to properties and transform norms and attitudes that promotes practices like FGM and other forms of gender based violence.
As part of the Wajibika Initiative supported by the United Nation Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, CREAW works with women-led groups to mobilize and rally communities on women’s rights issues. These includes, raising awareness among communities on the norms that promotes violence against women and engaging authorities to enact gender policies to cater for women’s equality and provide redress mechanisms on gender based violence.
Huge win for survivors of sexual and gender based violence as Kenya launches its first ever policy for the National Police Service (NPS) integrated response to gender based violence. Launched on the 13th October 2021, the Policy is intended to steer NPS in the establishment, management and operations of one-stop centers dubbed ‘Policare’ and is intended to provide comprehensive support services including legal, psychosocial support, police and health to survivors of gender based violence (GBV) at no cost.
We are delighted to be among the finalists for the The Womanity Foundation Awards.
This partnership with CREAW Kenya and CARE Kenya/Rwanda will support the adaptation of the Indashyikirwa (Agents for Change)- an Intimate Partner Violence prevention program originally implemented in Rwanda.
The programme will work with couples to reduce intimate partner violence (IPV) and improve the wellbeing of survivors by shifting attitudes, behaviours and norms that drive IPV. It is also aimed at strengthening the evidence base for community GBV prevention and response.
“We have a big gap when it comes to prevention of violence against women and girls in Kenya, a lot of emphasis has been on response. The adaptation of the Indashyikirwa program therefore provides us with an opportunity to scale-up interventions and address violence affecting women and girls in the households and by large, at the Country level.”
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.