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.
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.
A 30 kilometers journey from Kilifi town leads us to Chasimba in Chonyi, one of the six Sub-Counties haboured within the oceanic County of Kilifi. It is about midday and the sun is warming up to usher us into a rather cool and conversational afternoon.
Over the roads, the greenery sight of maize plantations and the swaying palm trees that invokes the serendipity of freshness and harmony welcomes us to a village that has long reconciled with a past filled with crime. Incidences of GBV
It is here that wails of children and women enveloped the villages over the years and as Merceline Akinyi puts it; “not a day, not a week went by without the wails of children robbed off their innocence being heard in the nearby thickets.”
As a well known anti-GBV crusader in her village, Akinyi recounts the many nights women spent over at her home as they escaped from violent spouses. She tells the tale of the many cases of gender based violence (GBV) perpetrated by bodaboda riders yet the area lacked a fully functional police post to lock up perpetrators or safe shelters for survivors.
Today, hope is brought alive as the community gears to the opening of a newly established Chasimba police station; a first of the first since time immemorial. This has brought with itself a sense of safety and security among communities in the surrounding areas.
“The nearest police station we have ever had is located in Kilifi town; 25kms away. We had to travel miles away to report crime,” she says, adding “follow-up of cases becomes challenging with a transportation cost of Sh800 each day and most cases ends up being thrown out of court.”
It is a tale that Inspector Paul Achebi based Bando Salama DCC’s office in Chonyi knows to well. He grins as he narrates to us how Chasimba Police; located three kilometers away from where he sits has eased his work.
“Currently we do not have vehicles to transport suspects to Kijipwa where we have holding cells or to court. Most of the time we use bodabodas and run the risk of suspects escaping,” narrates Inspector Achebi.
Achebi tells us that he has had incidences where he uses his own car to support survivors to follow-up on their cases in court but he is happy that the Chasimba Police station will have all the infrastructure and resources needed to improve police response to criminal activities in the area. And so what did it take to get the police station?
Mwanajuma Kusa has lived in Chonyi since birth, she has lived through the insecurity and seen it all; how the bodaboda riders would slash to death residents, the cold bloodbaths by organized criminals like the outlawed Mombasa Republican Council (MRC)- calling for a responsive government to the needs of Coastal communities.
And the cases that add more salt to what Mwanajuma terms as the “evil that resides within the community” is the scourge of gender based violence that has left many homes broken, children left without mothers and fathers and many teenage girls defiled and impregnated by people well known to them: brothers, uncles, fathers and neighbours.
“We have a culture of ‘disco matanga’ that exposes girls to teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Despite the government outlawing such, the practice still persists in the community,” she says
Mwanajuma’s concern was to have a safer community for the many women and girls whose interest resides in her heart. As a member of Sauti Ya Wanawake, Chonyi Chapter, she gathered all the women to discus the issue of a police post being established a stone throw away from the villages.
“To gunner support, we first conversed with community members including the Kaya Elders. Together we agreed that we would approach the area Member of Parliament (MP),” recalls Mwanajuma.
She pauses and shifts to how it was challenging for them to stand before the Kaya Elders, knowing what the “traditions postulates”- voices of women are never taken into account. She says they stood firm and explained why it was time that the community got a fully-fledged police station. They needed to be heard not as “women” but as a community. It was a sigh of relief; their voices were heard and now they had a unity of purpose.
In the turns and sometimes postponement of meetings among the community and authorities, patience carried them through. “We knew even if it took years and ages, our call will be heeded,” she says.
In 2015, the MP would finally call for a meeting that included all the structures in the communities including the grassroots women leaders who have been at the forefront in the campaign. A committee was formed to fast-track the construction of the police post. Fast forward, in 2018 the dream of the community was born alive. Chasimba Police Station stands strong, tall and ready to kick. Addressing GBV
Inspector Achebi who has walked the journey with the women groups in the advocacies explains that he is happy with the network that the likes of Mwanajuma and Merceline have created.
He says, such network has helped in raising awareness on critical issues in the community. It is such that has helped changed the perceptions on issues of GBV and accorded women the strong voices to participate in spaces that were regarded as “male only.”
“In all honesty, it takes the community to create safe spaces for their coexistence. As a law enforcer, I have learnt that we should always create an understanding with each and every member of the community. I attend Chief barazas to listen to community concern and address their issues,” explains Achebi who is also the Chonyi Sub-County Commander.
Beatrice Charo confidently walks as she approaches us, with a fruity voice and a smile that paints a ray of sunshine allover her face, she greets us and ushers us in towards her living room. Here, she speaks passionately about the community she had called home for decades. It is here in the coastline town of Malindi that she had started her teaching career.
With the beautiful beaches that stretch across the horizons of the dark blue waves ocean; a picture is painted of a land at peace with itself yet down the sandy beaches, the cries of young girls making life in the twilight becomes just a whisper, and as Charo puts it, many girls are forced to drop out of school as a result of child exploitation that exposes them to sexual violence, early and forced marriages and child pregnancies.
“Often girls are forced into marital roles when their families betroth them as a trade off to ease poverty. These girls are forced to abandon their education and instead transition to fulfill the duties of wife and mothers,” she explains, noting that this limits girls’ ability to earn income and build sustainable earnings that will lift their families out of poverty and so the cycle of destitution in the family chain becomes limitless.
She says these limitless challenges that the girls face in the community also mirrors in their school performance vis-a-vis boys. Therefore, it is imperative that these learning environments must always be safe and gender inclusive to nurture a sense of responsibility and respect among boys and girls.
At Kibokoni Primary School where she teaches, she has made it her personal cause to ensure that girls are retained in school and that they enjoy safer learning environment free from any exploitation. She credits it to the knowledge that she acquired from several training sessions organized by CREAW for teachers in Kilifi County. In the trainings, teachers are trained on the aspects of gender-based violence (GBV), positive ways to discipline children and the rights and responsibilities pertaining to child protection.
“Every Wednesday, we have a forum where we sit with the girls to listen to the challenges they experience in and around school. This encourages them to speak up to avert severity of psychosocial issues and build on their self confidence,” she says.
Charo however is not alone in the anti-GBV war in schools; Getrude Karisa a teacher at the nearby Upewoni Primary School is elated that by virtue of being teachers, they have the opportunity and responsibility to nurture the voices of school going children under their care to be able to speak out on GBV. Both Charo and Karisa are members of the Beacon Teacher Movement.
The Beacon Teacher Movement is an initiative of the Teachers Service Commission that was initiated to give teachers the opportunity to promote child protection in their schools and communities. The teachers are trained to create awareness of child rights and responsibilities among learners and what to do when they are abused.
Karisa’s major concern is the numerous night Disco matangas- night vigil dances around Malindi attended by men, women and children to dance the night away in celebration of the deceased. Beneath the celebrations, men prey on young girls.
Kilifi has been cited as one of the counties with high prevalence of teenage pregnancies conceived mostly at the local disco matangas. According to the Ministry of Health (MOH) 22 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 in Kilifi County have began child bearing which is higher than the national statistics which stands at 18 percent.
“A week cannot go by without the night vigils. Many girls are defiled and some end up being pregnant and infected with sexually transmitted diseases in the process,” says Karisa.
She notes that communities must now move away from the popularisation of night vigils, which are unsafe to their daughters. They must have candid conversations on how to protect children. She recalls of a recent incident where a 16-year-old girl who schools at Upewoni was defiled by 18 year old in a disco matanga and the families were unwilling to talk about it or report the issue to the police.
How then does she handle such matters?
“I noticed the girl was pretty much disturbed and unusually quiet while in class. I called her aside and we talked at length, she opened up. We reported the case to the police. The matter is now in court,” Karisa says.
In Kilifi, the County Government issued a directive that banned disco matangas citing the rise in cases of sexual abuse and HIV infections among minors. Despite that night vigils still continues under the watch of local administration officials who collude with communities.
Both Kibokoni and Upewoni Primary schools have speak-out boxes installed in key locations that pupils post their issues. During the monthly parents meeting, the teachers are given an opportunity to educate parents on child protection and to handle GBV incidences when they arise.
Karisa’s main motivation lies with the fact that her parents gave her the opportunity to go to school despite the cultural conservatism on girls’ education among the coastal communities.
“I would not be where I am if I was not empowered through education. I have to ensure all the other girls also get to experience what it means to ascend through education and become responsible adults,” says Karisa.
In the rural parts of Kilifi, many girls are at risk of violation; most common is gender based violence (GBV). Over the years, the County has recorded incidences of child pregnancies and child marriages which has remained a major barrier to them accessing and transitioning to higher levels of education.
Cases of early pregnancies among school going children are widespread and a contributing factor to high incidences of school dropouts. According to a baseline survey on GBV conducted by CREAW in the County of Kilifi, cultural practice such as night vigil dances is largely to blame for the rising cases of teen pregnancies.
In 2018 alone, more than 14000 cases of pregnancies among school going children were reported by the Children’s Affairs Department. The girls affected are between the age groups of 13 and 19. The worrisome statistics tells the tale of many girls whose education has been cut short as they transition to motherhood roles.
In the wake of this, the office of the Women Representative through the Affirmative Action Fund has prioritised on educating girls to build a generation of informed, empowered and skilled girlhood.
The chairperson of the Affirmative Action Jonathan Mativo spoke to CREAW about the scholarship initiative and how it is building sustainable livelihood for women and offering girls an opportunity to access basic quality education from disadvantaged homes within Kilifi. CREAW: What is Affirmative Action Fund (AAF)? Jonathan: Affirmative Action Fund (AAF) is an initiative of the national government that targets the vulnerable in the community. Established in 2015, the fund seeks to address the plight of vulnerable groups through enhanced access to financial resources for socioeconomic empowerment among women, youths, PWDs, needy children and the elderly. Currently, the Office of the Women Representatives in their respective counties manages the fund. Kilifi has been widely reported as among the counties that records high number of child pregnancies. How do you think your scholarship and mentorship initiative will address the plight of many girls across the county?
We are committed to ensuring that families who live below the poverty rate are empowered and able to meet their daily needs as well as create sustainable livelihoods. Our initiative primarily targets to create access to livelihood support for women and access to secondary and tertiary education for disadvantaged girls from extremely poor households in Kilifi.
I will give you an example of a girl named Kadzo. ‘She comes from a family of eight. She is in class five and none of the siblings has ascended to higher education for lack of school fees. In the family, they do not have access to health and are not able to access information on critical issues that include getting access to bursaries.’ This is a scenario mostly depicted among families in Kilifi. AAF is mostly for the inflicted: women, girls and the elderly.
Our initiative provides yearly scholarships for many girls like Kadzo. We believe that with the strong educational background, women and girls have the capacity to achieve their goals and create financial freedom for themselves and their families.
What are the challenges that girls face everyday in Kilifi?
Apart from poverty that ravages their livelihoods, girls are at risk of violations such as gender based violence. Many of them are married off to older men at a young age; transitioning them to parental roles and are not able to ascend to higher levels of education. This limits their chances of accessing quality basic education subsequently employment opportunities to support their families. Additionally, cultural practices give preference to boy child education at the expense of girls. Such creates inequality in the community. Owing to the myriad challenges above and the glaring gender-gaps in the education of boys and girls, how does your initiative address the inequalities?
We give priority to girls due to the fact that transition rate is low amongst girls, however we also give scholarship to boys from disadvantaged families. But even with that, we know that there is need to address the deeply rooted cultural norms and barriers that disadvantage both boys and girls. The more reason why we are partnering with development organizations and partners like CREAW with community focused initiatives to bridge the gap.
Apart from the scholarships, we are also partnering with the national government to provide Information Communication and Technology skills training for unemployed youth. We traverse through the villages, set up computer packages classes for youths. The trainings are done in monthly intervals in all the sub-counties. Currently we are in 17 villages, reaching out to over 2000 students. For six years now we have done over 60, 000 youths. Due to the nature of your work, how do you map out children who are in need of bursaries from the community?
We usually conduct community dialogues and visit households as well. In the dialogue we talk about the AAF and it goals. We also talk about the importance of ensuring all children enrol in schools at the right age and transition to secondary schools.
In the dialogues, parents, guardians or community members point out names of the children who are out of school for one reason or the other after which we do household visits to ascertain the situation.
We work with women groups; who bring along their children to forums. We sensitise them on what AAF aims at achieving and ways in which they can access the funds. They also are key in mapping out boys and girls who are challenged in accessing education in the community.
How many scholarships have you given so far?
In January this year we gave out 50 scholarships to 39 girls and 11 boys across the county. We capitalised more on girls who are disabled or those whose parents are people living with disabilities or they are affected by cases of GBV. Every year we commit to getting over 50 girls on full scholarships that takes them through to form four. Is it only bursaries or the scholarship also covers other expenses?
When we commenced the issuance of bursaries we realized that it was just a percentage of the money to address education needs of students. We needed to factor in logistical costs and basic needs. Apart from the yearly school fees, we also provide cash for pocket money and transportation to and from school. We do this to ensure we retain students in school and they are of good health for an improved performance.
Do you follow-up on the performance of the students that your initiative is supporting?
Yes. Every term we make visits to the various schools that the students are placed. We are keen on how they are performing in school throughout their education journey. Additionally, we encourage them to take up new skills through sports and joining clubs. Your term of office ends in 2022, are there measures that you have put in place to ensure sustainability of the scholarship initiative?
After the girls are done with high school one of our ideas is to set up an education fund to see the girls go through the full cycle of 8-4-4 system of education. We are also creating partnership with development partners to support girls through universities.
In the short term, we want them to go through high school, keep them safe in school and comfortable. When they go to school they are safe from frustrations in school, but when they come back, they are back to such frustrations. When our session ends in 2022 we will hand them over to the new AAF committees to continue supporting them through school. During school holidays how do you engage the girls within your cohort?
When schools are closed we organise mentorship boot camps for girls and young women. These boot camps provides safe spaces for the girls to voice out the challenges they are facing in school and at home.
During the mentorship sessions we bring facilitators and speakers the girls identify with and are role models in their sectors to motivate girls to be achievers. Some are more or less their peers. In the mentorship we also look at their after high school life, we want them to take up courses that informs their talent and those that also are meaningful to them.
I am also advantaged to sit in a consortium in Africa that speaks about the future jobs, we can easily start predicting how jobs will look like in 2030, so we prepare the girls on the environment and the dynamics of such jobs in future. We want to also mould the girls to support their peers in the community. When they close school we want to deploy them in the community like in dispensaries or other institutions to start developing skills and get reports. That is part of the mentorship program. We would want them to grow not only as educated but responsible people as well. You were born and bread in Kilifi and understand the challenges that bedevil the development of communities. What motivates you to support children more so from Kilifi?
I am so passionate about education because the community also educated me. When I finished high school my parents had no money to take me to school, the community did a fundraising for me and I got school fees for the entire four years. I know what it feels for a child who would not get the opportunity to transition to high school. As a community oriented person, I feel content when my community grows. Development is a collective effort and we must all participate to ensure we build a generation with the required knowledge and skills for sustainable livelihoods.
With the growing momentum to have women voices amplified at the decision making spaces more so in conversations on policies in the wake of the devolved governance systems, the call to build stronger women movements that speaks with a unity of purpose cannot be over stated.
In Meru County, the women Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) came together to form a caucus dubbed the Meru Women Legislative Association (MEWOLA) aimed at creating a space for the women leaders to champion for the rights of women and engender the legislative processes at the county level.
Through the MEWOLA the women MCAs have strategically positioned themselves to collectively influence the Assembly and work together with the County Government to deliver services to communities. The MEWOLA believes that effective women’s participation can influence change despite the historical inequalities.
On December 7, 2018 MEWOLA launched its inaugural five year Strategic Plan with an aim of harnessing greater partnerships between men and women legislators to promote gender equality through legislations and to increase the number, influence and impact of women political leadership and governance in Meru County.
During the launch, speaker after speaker emphasised on the need for formation of women caucuses in all the counties. Meru County is the second after Nyeri to have the women caucus launch their development roadmap.
While speaking at the launch the Meru County First Lady Priscilla Murungi appreciated the efforts of the women MCAs and extended her invitation to them to work with her office and the executive in their strategic focus.
“I congratulate the women who had the courage to stand up and be elected. Women have the power but in most cases they shy off because of the way they have been socialized,” said Priscilla.
The first lady who was the Chief Guest at the launch said that the society must begin mentoring women at a younger age to sharpen their skills and build their confidence to participate in issues of societal good.
“We do not have to circumcise our girls to make them powerful women. We need to sharpen their brains to make them proud of their womanhood. We must also make our boys proud of who they are and supporters of their sisters. In this we build and equal society,” she emphasised.
The Governor Kiraitu Murungi who was also in attendance during the launch expressed confidence in the capability of women to transform communities stating that his government has a good will to empower women through the Meru Twaweza program both socially, economically and politically.
The Chairperson of MEWOLA Lucy Mukaria expressed that the caucus shall prioritise on result areas and seek resources necessary to implement the strategic activities to create significant impact in the governance of Meru County, seek better service delivery to people and create confidence as a trusted entity to effectively engage with communities.
“I extend my invitation to the likeminded partners: individuals, government, development partners to partner with MEWOLA. We can only hasten the achievement of our objectives if we work jointly with mutual understanding and cooperation,” said Mukaria.
Meet Beatrice Njeri, a Kenyan lawyer passionate about helping survivors of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) navigate through the often tedious and strenuous legal processes.
“My greatest achievement is when survivors are able to complete their legal journey. I am even happier when they are able to get successful convictions and perpetrators are held to account, making it a safer world for women to live their lives,” she says.
Beatrice, who works as a legal officer at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) in Nairobi, understands the many challenges that the SGBV survivors have to go through while trying to access justice.
“Women are unable to pursue legal solutions for Intimate Partner Violence because of the way the issue has been socialized. In some cultures women have been socialized to accept violence as an expression of love; making it difficult for them to pursue their legal journeys,” she notes. The socio-economic status of women at the household level and the harmful societal norms can hinder access to justice for the survivors. As such, CREAW has adopted a two-pronged (prevention and response) approach in addressing SGBV under the access to justice program.
The Netherlands Embassy in Kenya supports the work of CREAW under the Accountability Fund which intends to strengthen the advocacy capacity of marginalized groups in society.
The story was first published by the Embassy of Netherlands in Kenya