Kenya: 5 Inspiring Leaders Dismantling Patriarchy and Building Up Women and Girls

 Kenya
 Advocacy
 24th Nov 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sharp increase in gender-based violence (GBV) in many parts of the world. CARE is working with local women’s organisations in Kenya’s informal settlements to address GBV and protect survivors.
 

Yasmin Mohammed Nassur: "Through SUPERB an initiative that I started, we are raising authentic voices."

My name is Yasmin Mohammed Nassur, 27 years old. I am a Feminist, Menstrual advocate, Founder and director of SUPERB Community Based Organization. Born and raised in the informal settlement of Kibera, Nairobi Kenya. I am very passionate about women and girls’ empowerment. I am driven towards transforming the lives of women and girls and advocating for their issues in enhancing an equal and enabling environment where women and girls will live in dignity, free from violence and be given opportunities to lead and make decisions pertaining their body and lives. Working with feminist principles has enabled me to create safe-space for victims and survivors of GBV to be resilient as well as offer psychosocial support and giving referrals for legal aid services. 

How did you get started working to end GBV? Why did you choose to do it, how did you get into it? 

Growing up knowing that my biological father abandoned me at a tender age was and continue to be a nightmare that I wish to wake up from. My mother was psychologically tortured with the treatment she received from my father to an extent she wanted to commit suicide. I grew up with a single parent(mother) after which death robbed me my beloved mother in 2004. Living under the custody of my maternal grandmother after my mother passed on, life has not been easy. At puberty, I lacked information on SRHR and Life skills. I was not empowered, I couldn’t speak out nor share any of my personal experience and issues with anyone. My grandmother didn’t have enough education to guide me through my adolescent life. I therefore was very dependent on cultural and traditional values which at a certain point they were contributing to serious denial of my rights. 

Being aggressive enabled me to acquire knowledge and information. I started speaking out and claiming for my rights. I used my voice as a tool in questioning systems that were oppressive and violent to women and girls. Through SUPERB an initiative that I started, we are raising authentic voices. Voices that dismantles patriarchy and advocates for the rights of women and girls. The initiative dubbed “SUPERB” which is an acronym and stands for Safe-space, Underserved, Persistent, Empower, Resilient, Bold. SUPERB exists in challenging layered oppressive structures, prejudice, stereotypes, status quo that contributes in the serious denial of women’s rights. 

How has COVID-19 changed how your communication or work with GBV survivors? 

Following the government directives of curbing the spread of COVID-19, it has affected our programmatic activities on how we engage with our beneficiaries. We took a while in adapting to the new normal and adjusting our approaches. Through partnership with MAD sisters a local grassroots organization, we were committed to achieving our goal but only with an option of adhering to the government directives of curbing the spread of COVID-19. we started a radio program show, use of IEC materials, online advocacy campaigns and offering referrals to victims of GBV for further assistance. We engaged with several organizations like Rebirth of a Queen, Nivishe Foundation and the Feminist centre in ensuring that women and girls are safe and free from violence. Through the above interventions, we were able to reach out to a larger audience and get a male champion who advocates for the rights of women and girls. 

What are some of the biggest challenges and obstacles you have to overcome in your work and the current response? 

COVID-19 pandemic has made our beneficiaries more vulnerable than before. Having two young girls dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancy this year is a big blow to us. One expectant girl who wants to commit suicide really worried us a lot. The organization delve into the matter and is now under control.  

Majority of the beneficiaries travelled upcountry when schools were closed thus making it hard for us to engage with them. However, since the government under the ministry of education announced the reopening of schools, the number started adding up. We introduced a door to door approach with the provision of basic necessities and referrals in case of GBV case with an aim of ensuring that all our beneficiaries are safe and free from violence. We also offer weekly safe space session with an aim of tracking and ensuring that all our beneficiaries are faring well. 

What lessons have you learnt along the way? 

It is noted that the high rate of sexual and gender based violence has been stimulated by financial and economic constraints and therefore, we need to have safety mechanisms, policies and resources put in place that will protect and guide women and girls from all forms of violence. Women and girls are more vulnerable during the pandemic and crisis period and therefore we need to prioritize their needs as women empowerment is key to development.  

 

Mercy Opiyo: "COVAW devised innovative ways of giving support to survivors through the hotline"

Mercy Opiyo, 32 years, Programme Associate, implementing programs in Nairobi, Kisumu, Migori and Kiambu Counties.  My work entails supporting women and girls in the Access to Justice and Women Rights Programme by sensitizing communities on the rights of women and girls including those of intellectual disabilities. I do this in the informal settlements. Additionally, l support survivors of Sexual Violence to receive appropriate SGBV and SRHR services through the GBV referral system that includes psychosocial and legal support. All these efforts are strategically towards ensuring women and girls thrive in safe spaces. 

How did you get started working to end GBV? Why did you choose to do it, how did you get into it?  

As a young girl living in Kisumu County, GBV was prevalent and normalized in my community which did not sit well with me. Upon attaining my first degree in 2014, l chose to work with women rights organizations that seek to ensure women and girls including those with disabilities are protected from all forms of violence, after working on governance and transparency issues on my first job, GBV requires good governance and accountability to address.  

How has COVID-19 changed how your communication or work with GBV survivors?   

Due to social distancing and public health guidelines and measures set up by the national government, it has been impossible to engage and sensitize community members in Kisumu, Nairobi, Kiambu and Migori Counties. COVAW adapted its programs and sought to engage community members through alternative and innovative means like use of radio and online platforms. As a result, we have reached larger numbers as we continue educating the public on the rights of women and girls including those with intellectual disabilities during such times.  

What are some of the biggest challenges and obstacles you have to overcome in your work and the current response?   

During the lockdown period, when social gathering was prohibited, reaching survivors and community members has been difficult. However, COVAW devised innovative ways of giving support to survivors through the hotline 0800 720 553 where survivors of violence could receive free support in reporting cases of violence. At a personal level,  l am also concerned about risks present during the limited interaction that we have been having with our program participants. 

What lessons have you learnt along the way?  

It is necessary to adapt to changes in the environment as we continue supporting women and girls who are survivors of violence. Economic vulnerabilities have strong nexus with entrenched GBV as witnessed during this COVID-19 times when a lot of women that we work with have lost their livelihood affecting their ability to making decisions and subsequently exposing them to abuse and exploitation. However, l also learnt that strong programming like COVAWs and good relationships with communities go a long way in facilitating adaptive programming during this period. 

Phelister Abdalla: "By end of April, KESWA had recorded having lost 4 sex workers due to intimate partner violence and many others left with physical injuries."  

Phelister Abdalla, 33 years, National Coordinator, implementing programs across 47 counties in Kenya.  My work entails supporting women engaging in sex work access health and justice as well as involve sex workers in Women Rights Programmes by sensitizing sex workers on the rights of women. This led me to form an organization called Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) legally registered as Key affected population Health and Legal Rights Alliance.  

Working across 47 counties, KESWA works in both urban (formal) and semiurban (informal) settlement. Additionally, KESWA supports survivors’ of Sexual Violence to receive appropriate SGBV and SRHR services through the GBV referral system that includes psychosocial and legal support. All these efforts are strategically towards ensuring women and girls thrive in safe spaces.  

How did you get started working to end GBV? Why did you choose to do it, how did you get into it?  

As a young sex worker operating from the Coastal town of Mombasa, I witnessed and also experienced many cases of violence meted out to my fellow sex workers and I. to add insult to injury, there was no place to go and report and thus we just healed and went back to work, afraid that the same perpetrator may return.  

In 2010, after a convening of sex work leaders from East Africa, and Africa as a whole, there was a need to form a movement to strengthen sex workers. The leadership resolved to form a strong regional movement, the Africa Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA), while the Kenya team agreed to form the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance.  

How has COVID-19 changed how your communication or work with GBV survivors?   

COVID 19 has impacted negatively on the economy and public health. There are rising cases of anxiety about personal financial exposure including loss of income due to the inability of businesses to operate and loss of casual jobs. Among the Kenyan sex workers, the directives to control the spread of COVID-19 causes heightened anxiety due to the closure of bars, restaurants, scale down of travel, and recently the imposed dusk to dawn curfew. The close of bars and the curfew, in particular, have negative impacts on sex workers' ability to earn income. Potentially, sex workers have lost their income, livelihoods, and are staring at the possibility of being unable to meet their basic needs and provide for their families. In this instance, the impact COVID 19 has on sex workers' socio-economic and livelihoods situations, as well as its impact on access to HIV and STIs prevention and treatment services, remains unknown. Besides, the behaviour of sex workers just like that of other members of the public is influenced by their knowledge and perceptions about COVID 19.  

What are some of the biggest challenges and obstacles you have to overcome in your work and the current response?   

KESWA established of a toll-free number that will be used to report, document and follow-up of violence cases and making sure that prompt communication on safety measures is up to date. This was necessitated by the rise in violence cases involving women engaging in sex work during the global pandemic outbreak. By end of April, KESWA had recorded having lost 4 sex workers due to intimate partner violence and many others left with physical injuries.  

Due to the impact of COVID-19, the Kenyan government had to set aside containment measures such as enforcing dusk to dawn curfew hours from 7 PM - 5 AM, cessation of movement lockdown of high prevalence counties, measures that hugely affected sex workers given the majority of female sex workers frequent in the social hotspot at night to solicit for clients, migrant from one town to another and other live-in sex brothels. KESWA developed media campaign brochures and run 30 days social media online campaign with adequate messaging on safety, prevention and observing curfew hours. The 30 days online guidelines on COVID-19 prevention messaging across all of KESWA’s social media platforms created awareness by sensitizing female sex workers with adequate information on keeping safe and adhering to government containment directive given that most sex workers live in sex brothel that keeping social distancing becomes a huge challenge.  

The nature of sex work involves physical contacts that hindered sex workers from following containment rules of keeping social distancing while frequenting in hotspot as well as adhering to curfew hours while working which let to the majority of the female sex workers arrests and forced quarantined. KESWA has an emergency kitty to support the bailing out female sex workers.  

What lessons have you learnt along the way?  

The situation has changed, of how female sex workers viewed the impact of COVID-19 and the effects it could cause, by enhancing knowledge with adequate information translated into both Kenya’s national languages that most people understand on COVID-19 prevention measures circulated to sex workers social media sites. female sex workers have improved adherence to governments guidelines and regulations. through the social media campaigns, KESWA managed to disseminate the guidelines set out by the ministry of health on washing hands, wearing a mask in public, as well as maintaining social distance. KESWA managed to also sensitize female sex workers on observing curfew hours as well as avoidance of travel to and from counties that had been put on lockdown. Toll-free 24 hours tollfree number has as well contributed to fast response to violence encouraging real-time reporting and response of violence cases on sex workers. 

Hon Nereah Amondi Oketch: "We must continue to invest in holistic programming to enable our most marginalized survivors to assess the assistance they need to lead their lives with renewed strength."

Hon Nereah Amondi Oketch, 43 years old, Executive Director NAO Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit organization working to build a movement for gender equality, economic empowerment, good governance and leadership at the grassroots. Our primary program focuses on combating sexual and gender based violence, the Haven Initiative is designed to tackle the prevalent cases of SGBV in Homa Bay and Migori Counties through community driven advocacy and providing linkages to support systems for victims. 

How did you get started working to end GBV? Why did you choose to do it, how did you get into it?  

The NAO Foundation has been actively responding to cases of and campaigning against SGBV since 2019. This was inspired by my legislative work at the county assembly on child safety and protection. In Homa Bay County majority of the cases, both reported and unreported, are against minors and women. This was further exacerbated by the Great Lockdown causing many women and young people with a lack of opportunity to be trapped with their abusers. This is unfortunately contributing to the high HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy rates in the country with Homa Bay at 19.6% and 33.3% prevalence rates respectively. 

How has COVID-19 changed how you communicate or work with GBV survivors?   

The economic fallout and government directives implemented as a result of the pandemic inspired the Foundation and local advocates to be creative in engaging the community in more effective ways. We began engaging motorcycle riders to disseminate SGBV response information in public spaces. Many were instrumental enabling survivors to access emergency services. 

What are some of the biggest challenges and obstacles you have to overcome in your work and the current response?   

SGBV programming in rural communities continues to be quite superficial in addressing the urgent needs of survivors and their families. Rescue centres and grassroots organizations remain greatly underfunded, there are a limited number of mental health professionals, non-holistic programs that barely or completely disregard the needs of unique victims including, widows, children, persons with disabilities and persons living with HIV/AIDS. Moreover, geographical proximity to basic amenities for a response such as police stations and health centres continues to be our biggest obstacle in combating SGBV in rural Kenya particularly during emergency situations. 

What lessons have you learnt along the way?  

Specifically, during the COVID19 Lockdown, we have seen the need to advocate for more resources and industry-specific training for SGBV response for emerging grassroots organizations to build capacity. Beyond this fact, we must continue to invest in holistic programming to enable our most marginalized survivors to assess the assistance they need to lead their lives with renewed strength. It is especially important to support access to economic opportunity and political participation in their recovery period.  

Ann Sabania: "My main focus is therefore women and girls working in informal economies like domestic workers, market women and women in rural agriculture."

My name is Ann Sabania, 39 years old, the Founder and Executive Director of Center For Livelihood Advancement (CfLA)Kenya. I founded this organization to focus on the protection of women and girls who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and to address barriers that they continue to battle as they seek for their livelihoods. My main focus is therefore women and girls working in informal economies like domestic workers, market women and women in rural agriculture. 

Having been a domestic worker earlier in my life, I had first- hand experience on the plight women and girls go through in their workspaces including sexual abuse, physical abuse, poor working conditions, lack of skills and competencies to deliver their tasks, poor negotiations skills, poor payments and gross abuse of their labour rights. During Covid-19 pandemic, the plight of female domestic workers mainly called Mama Fua (Wash Ladies) who move from one house to the other looking for washing jobs moves me to champion their protection from Covid-19 and sexual abuse at workspaces. I am currently distributing protective kits (sanitizer, soap and washable masks) with a hotline and counsellors line to help them report cases of violence at home and workplaces.  

During the 16 days of activism, I will facilitate women to conduct a safety audit at their workspaces, so that they can blacklist all the employers and progressive discourage other women from working in abusive homes. We will also provide Psychosocial First Aid (PFA to individual female domestic workers in their waiting bays and group therapies when necessary. PFA is critical to help women break the silence, report sexual abuse and exploitation and seeking help.  Due to the cost associated with counselling, these services are not available to poor women who may not be able to pay for it. As a result, many survivors of violence are dying quietly from depression which further increases their vulnerability to more abuse.  Female Domestic Workers being one of the lowest occupations for women in informal employment continue to experience abuse at work, on their way to work and in their homes.  

«All Stories and Blogs
Designed and Produced by ACW
This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn More