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.
Accelerating Commitments, Investments and Action on Addressing VAW/G during and Beyond COVID19
June 4, 2020 | 2:00pm – 4:00pm
The COVID19 pandemic is an unprecedented global health emergency that continues to impact on the lives of millions of people in Kenya and across the world. While enormous efforts have been put into the containment of the novel corona virus, women and girls continue to be at risk of the secondary impacts of the pandemic such as gender-based violence.
To contain the spread of COVID19, the government of Kenya announced various measures including quarantine of people with travel history, encouraging people to stay and work from home, and putting in place a national curfew that runs from 7p.m. to 5am. Other measures include closures of schools, restaurants, places of worship, entertainment places and limiting public gatherings to not more than 15 people. While these preventive measures have been designed to keep people healthy slow and manage the spread of COVID-19, they trigger further discrimination and violence against women and girls. As evidence show, Crises do exacerbate age, gender, and disability inequalities and place women, girls, and other vulnerable populations at increased risk of Sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) and intimate partner violence (IPV). With the closure of schools, civil society groups have reported an increase in teenage pregnancies, as well as transactional sex and FGM. Sexual Violence has been on the rise and reported cases include women who have been thrown out of the rental houses due to non-payment of rent and have in the assaulted while seeking shelter in abandoned buildings. The intersectionality of Poverty and the effects of COVID has disproportionately impacted more on women and girls.
Evidently, as the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID19 infections rise, so are the numbers of GBV cases being reported. In the period of March and May 2020, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) recorded a 64% increase in incidences of sexual and gender-based violence affecting women and girls across the country with a majority of this being Intimate Partner Violence. Additionally, the Judiciary and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have recorded an increase of more than 30% of the cases being reported.
Investments to prevent and respond to violence against women have long been at crisis point. With already limited capacities and investment to address violence against women, this increase in violence is happening at a time of further reduced capacity of service providers (health, police, social care, charities) to cope with the demand.
This crisis presents us with an opportunity to increase our investments, harness our commitments and build solidarity to Ending violence against Women and Girls. Particularly, identifying concrete actions to prevent and respond to the VAW/G both in the short term and long term during and after the public health crisis.
The objective of this virtual meeting is therefore to bring together a diverse group of government leaders, policy makers, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss and identify strategies to ending Violence against women and girls. The webinar will include an overview of the issue in the National context, how existing response programs have adapted to protect survivors amid restrictions on movement during the pandemic, and possible solutions and policies to protect survivors and prevent and/or reduce violence in the long-term. As this pandemic has confirmed, Gender Based Violence is deeply rooted in the inequalities in the society.
There has never been a time before that has demonstrated the definition of prevention of GBV as life saving. This is the single reason we all must rally together and challenge the status quo, put in action definitive preventive measures and in the event of violence, ensure access to timely and immediate quality services.
Highlight the efforts and investments made to responding to incidences of Violence against women
Underscore the importance of investing in Prevention as well as response efforts
Highlight the innovation around Prevention and Response
In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service and Gender, call to action on Prevention and Response Efforts.
Margaret Kobia, Cabinet Secretary, The Ministry of Public Service and Gender
Anna Mutavati, Country Director, UN Women
Wangechi Wachira,Executive Director, The Centre for Rights Education and Awareness
Alberta Wambua,Executive Director, Gender Violence Recovery Centre
Moderated by Linda Kroeger, Human Rights Lawyer and Programme Officer, KELIN
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global advocacy day to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls by breaking the silence, and raising awareness to change negative social norms around MHM, and engage decision-makers to prioritise and catalyse action for MHM, at global, national and local levels.
For 12 years Margaret Sepengo was a renowned female circumciser in the remote village of Leparwa tucked in the north of Isiolo County.
In 2015 she abandoned the cut all thanks to the sensitization efforts by CREAW auspiced under the Tunza Mama Na Mtoto project aimed at empowering communities to abandon retrogressive cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) that inhibits on maternal and newborn health.
With the support from UKAid through Christian Aid, the project that is in its third year of implementation adopted a community mobilization approach dubbed SASA! (Start, Awareness, Support, Action),to educate and inspire communities to take actions for social change.
Margaret was lucky to be among those who were capacity built on maternal health issues and how they can use the knowledge to advocate against FGM, early marriages, teen pregnancies and gender based violence all of which are rooted deep in culture and the leading causes of maternal and newborn motilities and morbidities in the larger Isiolo County.
“It is the trainings that enabled me shun the practice and engage in alternative source of livelihood,” says Margaret who is now a respected community activist who is using the SASA! model to change perceptions and attitudes of her community towards FGM.
Female Genital Mutilation as she puts it, used to be the cornerstone of livelihoods for many households but the situation has changed. When she learned the art of the cut, her only motivation was to eke a living.
“I used to admire an elderly neighbour who used to circumcise girls and would earn a lot of money. Being a third wife and an only breadwinner in the family, I learnt the art and would make Sh1000 from each girl. The prices would go up to Sh2500 during high season and sometimes poor families will offer their goats or cattle,” she says.
“With the sustained community dialogues targeting the council of elders, men and women, the community has opted abandoned the age-old tradition,” she adds.
In her quest to have the elders lift the ban on the curse placed on any man who marries uncircumcised girl, Margaret reach out to the Masaai Morans to have the elders allow them to marry uncut women. The elders agreed to their quest and held a public forum to ‘break the curse.’ The forum held in Laikipia brought together the young and elderly from Masaai, Turkana and Samburu communities. This was a great step towards eradicating FGM.
“During the exchange visit between reformed circumcisers from Isiolo and Kajiado, I learnt the different initiative that my counterparts were using to have the elders to create a by-in with the elders who are the custodian of culture. I came back and embarked on the same. My efforts bore fruits,” explains the mother of four.
“Among pastoralist communities, uncircumcised girls were doomed to be a bad omen and outcasts. The blessings symbolized an end to the cut among the communities,” she says, adding, “ This was a step to ensuring that women and girls would now be free from early marriages and complications experienced during childbirth associated to FGM. “
Aside from her proactive activism in her community, she has enrolled herself into adult education program now in level three. She explains that like many girls in her community, she was married off to an elderly man at the age of 14 and was not able to ascend through to high school.
“If we give girls the opportunity to go to school, we will be able to break the cultural barriers and make healthy decisions for their reproductive health and that of their families and children,” she says.
Thursday afternoon, the weather is chilly and the usually busy Githongo pitch has no sight of any young ones kicking around the ball in the pitch or athletes working out as in the usual. In the surroundings, the densely constructed shelters are slowly shifting the small rural town of Githongo to an urbanized community center.
Looking on to the vast field in the left corner is the Githongo Chiefs Offices. Outside, a group of women and men are seen chit chatting. Their starched and well-pressed brown khaki uniform brings their steadfastness to the fore; their threaded shoulders mark them out as protectors and defenders of the larger community as their call of duty bestows them.
The uniformed women and men are Chiefs from Imenti Central, Meru County who came together to establish the 14 members Utawala Chiefs Group with an aim to better provide coordinated response to GBV matters in their localities. Today, they are having their usual biweekly meetings to discuss the emerging issues in the community.
At the location level in Kenya’s administrative system, Chiefs are charged with mandate to maintain order within their jurisdiction. For the Utawala group, the work in the community goes over and above their call of duty. They derive passion from a violence free society where women and girls live in dignity, are better protected and able to move freely and thrive and thus their continued conversations and coordinated response to the ills that bedevils their community.
For more than two years now, they have been working together, raising their voices and driving conversations through Chiefs’ Barazas to educate their communities on the ills of GBV and the channels of reporting.
“I was privileged to be part of the Chiefs’ training that taught them on how to handle and support survivors when they report violations,” says Faith Kagwiria, a Chief at Kathurune West Location and also a member of the Utawala Chiefs.
As the first respondent when an incident occurs, it is paramount that Chiefs like Faith are well vast with the roles and responsibilities they play in regards to the various matters reported thus, CREAW through the Haki Yetu Jukumu Letu initiative came in handy to build their capacity to enable them to effectively support survivors and respond to the needs of the locals.
The initiative now in its third year of implementation and supported by the Embassy of Netherlands in Kenya equips Chiefs among other duty bearers with the knowledge on GBV related laws, how to document and report matters as well as how to set up community structures that promotes safe spaces in the community.
“Not a day goes, without widows flocking my office puzzled, confused and bewildered when their in-laws take away their matrimonial lands,” narrates Phyllis Mungatia who is the Chairperson of the Utawala Chiefs.
She says the inequalities when it comes to access and control of matrimonial land particularly in the agricultural rich region of Meru disenfranchises women.
It is such that draws the Utawala group to work with a unity of purpose. Their work in the community is slowly gaining momentum with the continued conversations, the community is slowly opening up and speaking out on matters such as incest that were shelved at family level.
“Apart from the weekly chief barazas, we also conduct targeted dialogues with men, women and in schools,” explains Stella Kinoti.
She goes on to say that they have also consistently taught the village elders and area managers on how to tackle GBV noting that it takes both individual and community actions to create a ideal community for all. The Nyumba Kumi clusters have also come in handy to map out cases like female genital mutilation and child neglect.
But as Lucy Magiri puts it, their success has not been without the challenges. Sometimes they are forced to flee their homes or handle cases under cover for fear of their lives. Nonetheless, together, they affirm that their actions are just a starting point to lasting change in the community. They are positive that with their collective efforts, their neighbourhoods will violence free.
In Kilifi County, pregnancy remains a key barrier to girls’ education. In 2018 alone, over 17000 girls fell pregnant – some of the cases are attributed to wayward bodaboda riders who lure young girls with gifts and impregnate them; some girls also fall pregnant after being molested by those they trust most: relatives teachers and clergymen.
When we meet 16 year old *Riziki at her maternal grandparents home, she is cuddling her two year old son- a product of an affair she had with the bodaboda rider. Then, she was in Form two.
“I met him on my way to school and he offered to transport me,” she says. What followed were everyday rides that transitioned into sexual encounters.
“He promised to take care of me but denied being the father of my baby when I informed him I was pregnant,” says Riziki
Like many other girls in Kilifi, Riziki forms part of the statistics of girls whose dream to ascend higher in education and make their future a reality is cut shot by pregnancy emanating from wayward bodaboda riders.
In the wake of this, CREAW through the Haki Yetu Jukumu Letu initiative with the Embassy of Netherlands in Kenya incorporated the Bodaboda riders in the community outreaches where they learn how to ensure that children are safe and well protected from sexual violence and other ills in their communities.
Daniel Tinga is the chairperson of Bodaboda riders in Kaloleni Sub County. He tells us that through the community outreaches he has learnt the dangers that sexual violence pose on the lives of young girls. From the lessons, he teaches his fellow riders to uphold respect and dignity of the women and girls they come into contact with.
“As a bodaboda rider I have the responsibility to ensure my customers whether young or old, arrive to their destination safely,” says Tinga.
In Ganze, Tinga’s counterparts are also organizing around the issue of defilement that has labeled them as perpetrators. In them is a resolve defy the ‘normal’ – they are building agency and using their voices to champion for good.
“ As a father I want, other girls in my community to grow well and complete their education just as my daughters. I want girls to fly high and build our village to greater heights,” says Shadrack Kazungu, a bodaboda rider at Matano Manne, Ganze Sub County.
He explains to us that after attending various community dialogues by CREAW his outlook on violence against women and girls has changed.
“I learnt that cat calling and groping violates the rights of girls. Before I was never attentive to such matters because in my industry, they are ‘normal.’ I am glad there is a shift, the conversations have helped us build consensus amongst us,” he says while noting that, in their Association they are on the look out for individuals who goes against the ethics and conduct they have set as such, they are excommunicated and matters referred to the police.
At Kibaoni, the Bodaboda riders’ voices are even getting more louder in their day to day work. In their numbers, they want Kibaoni Bodaboda Association to be known for good. With their collective voices, they are certain that their community can only getter better.
“We have a good relationship with village elders and Chiefs within Kibaoni who help us in tackling gender violence matters even among our circles,” says Sudi Zalikini.
Teen pregnancies among school girls is a worrying phenomenon in Kenya. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), notes that 378,397 girls aged 10 to 19 got pregnant between June 2016 and July 2017.
Similar data by Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014, indicates that about one in every five adolescent girls has either given birth, or is pregnant with her first child.
Notably, in November 2018, Kilifi County Children Affairs department released shocking statistics. They recorded 13, 624 pregnancies among girls aged 15 to 19 years in the past one year.
Incidents of deliveries among girls, during Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), often surface.
The same year, the Ministry of Education reported at least 50 cases of pregnancies during KCPE. Kitui County presented a classical scenario with a report of 100 pregnancies during KCSE.
Last year, a similar trend was reported in Bomet County during the KCSE with at least 12 pregnancies.
Across Africa, the structural systems are inflexible and inconsiderate of the burdens of adolescent mothers seeking to return to school.
As at 2018, 15 countries had re-entry policies for the girls, but the conditions set for the re-entry are repulsive.
The countries include Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique. Others are Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe
In Malawi, girls are suspended for one year the moment their pregnancy is known, according to a2018 Human Rights Watch report on discrimination of adolescent mothers’ discrimination in access to education.
There are conditions set for the young mothers to apply for re-admission. She must send a request to the Ministry of Education and the school she intends to join, as noted in theLeave No Girl Behind in Africa Discrimination in Education against Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothersreport.
In Zambia and Gabon, girls have a better chance of continuing with their education. The countries have policies privy to their additional needs. They ensure primary and secondary education is free; the girls have time to breastfeed, and can choose morning or evening classes. They also have nurseries and day-care centres close to schools where their babies are sheltered while they attend classes.
In Kenya, a proposed law on supporting girl-child parents to complete their education after childbirth is still pending in the Senate.
Care and Protection of Child Parents Bill
The Care and Protection of Child Parents Bill (2019) proposes a framework for ensuring girls such as those in Kilifi and Kitui are granted care and protection by the national and county governments to actualise their right to basic education while ensuring the care of their children.
The Bill sponsored by nominated Senator Millicent Omanga, mandates the national government through the National Council for Children’s Services to “address any educational and related barriers faced by pregnant and parenting students.”
The Council would also be required to “guarantee funding and sustainability of the initiative and other child welfare programs aimed at benefiting child parents.”
There is also a proposal that county education boards and county executive committee members for education collaborate in establishing “programs to ensure expectant children and child parents have access to education services.”
And that “academic support programs that ensure students with extended absences for reasons related to pregnancy and parenting, are able to enrol back to school or other education facility to access education services.”
The Bill has been reviewed by Senate Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, with the report being tabled in the House in November last year.
It would require National Assembly backing to become law. Upon approval by the Senate, it would be sent to MPs, before the Speaker of Senate forwards it the President to assent to it.
Addressing pregnancies among the school girls is, however, not just about institutional structures with financial support, argues Dr Emmanuel Manyasa, an education analyst and Executive Director of Usawa Agenda.
“We have to be careful with giving financial support as it may end up being an incentive for pregnancy,” says Dr Manyasa who spoke to the Nation on phone.
He says allowing girl-child parents back to school must be accompanied with a long-term solution.
“Needy girls end up pregnant as a consequence of poverty. The girls must be freed from poverty to avoid repeat pregnancies.”
Ms Isabella Mwangi, of Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) underscores a multi-pronged approach to ending teen pregnancies.
She says the government, parents, teachers, religious institutions and community elders play a critical role in creating safe spaces for advancement of school girls.
Ms Mwangi says the government and religious institutions must agree on the introduction of sex education in schools, since sexual relations among teens is a reality that cannot be ignored.
She identifies recreational centres near schools as fertile grounds for luring girls, and the government ought to eradicate them.
She says parents must be responsible for teaching their girls and boys about their sexuality.
“Parents must nurture their children to know that they have a purpose in the society. Talking to their children is a responsibility they must not abdicate to anyone,” she notes.
While emphasising on role of community elders as custodians of cultural traditions, Ms Mwangi says they must be involved, as their influence in spearheading anti- retrogressive practices campaigns would lead to drop in teen pregnancies.
When 16 year old *Kadzo met her boyfriend, she was smitten; she did not in anyway think her life will change completely.
She says, “he promised to marry me and I believed him.” But today, her melancholic look tells the tale of a wound that she has long reconciled with. From the experimental sexual relationship, came pregnancy.
All through her childhood, her grandparents were the sole providers. They had so much hope in her completing her schooling but the tables had turned and now they wanted her out of their home. Swiftly, they married her off to the father of her child.
And as she tells of her ordeal, she fidgets and mumbles some words. The shock and disappointment of being a teen mother is written all over her. Apart from her pregnancy, she was forced to cope with her abusive boyfriend who came home each night drunk and would threaten to burn her alive.
“The scariest of all was when he took a kitchen knife and wanted to cut off my neck. I managed to escape,” she recalls of her deadliest experience at the hands the lover turned foe.
Once again she was back to her grand parents home, forced to fend for herself and adjusting to the reality of being a mother of a three months old baby with the future unknown.
*Mbodze on the other hand started dating her boyfriend at the age of 14, she was in class six. Now aged 16 and a mother of two moths old baby, she is juggling between nursing her baby and classroom.
Her story bore similarity to that of Kadzo; they are both teen mothers only that one dropped out of school and the other rose through stigma and household poverty to continue with her education.
“I come to school at 8am and leave at 12 noon to go nurse the baby, “she says.
When we set out with her to her home, it takes 30 minutes to navigate through the village paths surrounded by thickets and maize plantations. She usually walks through the 7km journey to Dzitsoni Primary School.
“My dream is to join Ngara Girls after completing Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. I want to be a lawyer so that I can help other girls in my community,” she says.
Mbodze come from a family of five and her parents have since separated.
Hadly a kilometer away is 17 year old *Rehema, Mbodze’s classmate. She is a mother of a seven days old baby.
“I met my boyfriend at the funeral night vigil in the nearby Swere village. I used to call him through my mom’s phone and we would arrange to meet after school. He is a form three student,” says Rehema.
She says, “ when I became pregnant, I informed my boyfriend and he denied responsibility. From there on, I never wanted to see him or have anything to do with him.”
Rehema is lucky that her parents have been very supportive; when she is in school, her mom takes care of the baby.
“I want to learn so that I can have a good life,” says Rehema.
Why so many teen mums?
The life of Kadzo, Rehema and Mbodze mirrors the life of many teens in Kilifi and by extension across Kenya who are now forced to transition to mother hood at a young age. Their situation is not an isolated one. Over the last three years, Kilifi County has drowned under the weight of high numbers of teen pregnancy.
Statistics from the Kilifi County Ministry of Health shows that in 2017, 12,790 girls fell pregnant. In 2018 the numbers skyrocketed to 17,866 and in the period of January and March, 3102 girls were pregnant.
The Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 indicated that one out of five (18%) girls aged 15-19 years were pregnant or were already mothers. By February 2018, the County had approximately 203,094 teenagers.
In 2017, statistics from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) indicated that 378,397 adolescents in Kenya aged between 10 and 19 got pregnant. It is this worrisome statistics that continues to wipe out the future young girls.
For the 11 years that Olive Nyawana has been a teacher at Dzitsoni Primary School, the school has never experienced high numbers of teen getting pregnant but in 2018 and 2019 the numbers came as a shock.
“Previously we’ll have one or none. In fact for the last four years preceding 2019 we had none. This year we have four who are candidates,” explains Olive.
Olive who is a guiding and counseling teacher interacts daily with the Rehema and Mbodze, teen mums from the school. She says that she has been encouraging them to continue with schooling.
“I continuously talk to parents to be supportive of their children till they finish school,” says Olive who is also the Deputy Chairperson of the Beacon Teacher Movement in Kilifi.
As a Beacon Teacher, she has undergone trainings on child protection and GBV laws that are supported by CREAW’s Haki Yetu Jukumu Letu project in Kilifi and Meru Counties.
In her guiding and counseling sessions, Olive has adopted the use of materials that are child friendly and fun to hold conversations with pupils in her school. She teaches them on age appropriate sexuality issues.
As a teacher she has nurtured an environment where pupils are free to approach her with any challenges they experiences at home and while in school.
“Aside from the speak-out boxes that we have installed in school, we also have session with the boys and girls so that they are able to speak out freely,” says Olive who is also the Deputy Chairperson of the Beacon Teacher Movement in Kilifi County.
But why so many teen mums?
The 2016 Plan International report cited the root causes of teenage pregnancies in Kilifi as cultural practices, poor parenting coupled with broken marriages, poverty and inadequate sex and family planning education.
On cultural practices, the research touched deeply on the issue of funeral discos. It also cited long-held beliefs that girls’ work is to give birth in the society upon reaching puberty. The report noted that it is regarded as normal when a teenage girl gets pregnant before marriage. Some girls are exposed to drunkards at their homesteads, where mnazi (palm wine) business is done. This is more so in rural areas, where strict rules of establishing palm wine clubs away from home are not followed.
Ending teen pregnancies
In the wake of this, duty bearers continue to grapple and ponder on the appropriate redress mechanisms. Recently, there have been talks of introduction of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools to ensure healthy sexuality and reproductive lifestyles for adolescents as in countries like Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark where such initiative has proven to be effective.
In 2014, a Reproductive Healthcare Bill was introduced in the Senate. The Bill sought to provide children as young as 10 with condoms and birth control pills. The bill also proposed unhindered access to CSE and confidential services to adolescents. Ideally this would have gone along way in building the knowledge of children on pregnancy among other reproductive health issues and as fate would have it, the Bill was shot down on grounds that it would promote moral decay.
Fast forward, here we are with the ballooning statistics on teenage mothers wiping out the potential of our girls. Who would blink first? Parents, government? And is the society ready to change and create room for unrestricted access to reproductive health services including information to the young ones?
The government of Kilifi is however well aware of the bigger problem that child pregnancy posits to the development of its citizens. As such, the County Government of Kilifi constituted a taskforce constituting line state and non-state actors to look into the matter.
“The culture of silence make it difficult for perpetrators to be held accountable and punished for their harmful actions. It shows how sexual violence against children has been normalized making it difficult to shield girls from sex predators especially at family level,” says Saumu Mwadime who has been representing Women on the Move Against (WIMA) GBV at the taskforce.
WIMA is women led accountability group that has been working closely with CREAW in educating communities and spearheading actions geared towards increasing transparency, responsiveness and accountability for public service delivery by the county governments.
As an anti-GBV crusader, Saumu notes, “even with the existing laws and policies to curb the menace, the roaring statistics on child pregnancy are nothing to write home about.” She says.
“I look forward to the Kilifi government enacting a gender based violence policy to ensure that the needs of survivors are well catered for and the vice mitigated,” adds Saumu.
Under the auspices of the Haki Yetu Jukumu Letu project supported by the Embassy of Netherlands in Kenya, CREAW has worked to empower women groups such as WIMA on gender based violence and the existing redress mechanisms postulated by the law. The knowledge to which they have used to sensitize communities to challenge norms and attitudes that promotes sexual violence against children and other forms of gender based violence.
Over the last three years, CREAW has been working within communities to end sexual violence among children among other forms of gender based violence. We have continuously engaged the custodians of culture to eliminate the barriers that put girls at harms way and build equitable societies for women and girls to realize their rights and thrive in their communities.
To address child pregnancies, WIMA members are continuously conversing with parents on good parenting skills. They have also been holding mentoring sessions in schools around Kilifi, speaking to girls on their sexual and reproductive health rights and way they can report sexual violations.
For girls who fell pregnant while in school like Kadzo, Rehema and Mbodze, WIMA members have formed a supportive system to address their needs while in school and at home. For example, they have approached the office of the Women Representative to sponsors girls like Kadzo to continue her education. This year alone, the Office of the Women Representative has sponsored 91 girls in various secondary schools through the affirmative action funds.
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.