How Women of Faith in Kenya are Responding to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

“No one is safe till we are all safe. Let us make it our responsibility to voice up in the fight against GBV in the community. Let all members of the public join hands to end this vice before it becomes normal to violate human rights. Stand against GBV by among other things: reporting incidences, supporting victims, and speaking out against harmful and retrogressive cultural beliefs,” – Lillian Japani, Organizing Secretary, Mombasa Women of Faith Network

The Kwale Women of Faith members sat quietly at Nyumba Mbovu Social Hall as they watched the ‘Makovu ya Kura’ feature by Citizen TV. Raw emotion reflected on their faces, the reality of what violence could be and how deeply it can scar both physically and emotionally. The feature was a painful reminder of the violence that happened in Kenya during the 2007/08 General Election, how inhumane situations could be and how political triggers can have such a catastrophic effect. It was a reminder of the vulnerability of women and children and the violation of their human rights that they faced and could still face; about the lives lost and the destruction and trauma that followed.

In one of the featured women, she narrated how several men who left her pregnant raped her, and how this affected her and her marriage – this was just one of the hundreds of cases that resulted due to SGBV.  Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) cases seem to escalate during the electioneering period and the marginalized groups bear the bigger burden of this violence. With the August 2022 election approaching, it was important that different stakeholders be at the forefront in addressing this potential vice. Women of faith have a role to play in monitoring and addressing this vice, to closely observe and ensure that Early Warning Early Response measures are taken before cases escalate before, during or even after the elections.

That is why the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya with support from Mensen met en Missie (MM) under the Joint Initiative for Strategic Religious Action (JISRA) project sensitized Women of Faith in Kwale, Mombasa and Nairobi Counties on the importance of finding gender-sensitive ways to identify report and monitor SGBV.

Kwale like any other County has potential SGBV triggers like the struggle for ethnic supremacy between the Digo and Duruma communities, hate speech by political leaders during campaigns, the long-standing land conflicts, and drug and substance abuse by idle youth just to mention a few.  

In Nairobi County, some of the mentioned triggers for SGBV included harmful gender norms such as gender stereotypes which are often used to justify violence against women. Women tend to be used mostly for sexual pleasures, the lack of empowerment for women and traditional beliefs in different communities. In a case, Salome gave that in her community a woman had to be slapped before she could start giving birth. She narrated how she had been slapped and had never gotten over the trauma that her husband and his entire family took her through as the family cheered as the husband slapped her.

GBV cases are very sensitive and many survivors fear that there will be reprisals and consequences if they report such cases. In some parts of the Country, forms of gender-based violence like verbal and physical abuse are so common that victims regard such treatment as normal.

Amina Musau, one of the members of Kwale Women of Faith Network during her devotion when opening the SGBV session preached on how as women everyone had a critical role to play especially in the General Election;

“Tusivuruge Amani kwa mambo ya mpito. Tuihubiri Amani tukijua ya kwamba Kenya ndiyo nyumbani kwetu hatuna badili yake. Tupendane na tushirikiane kwa kukemea dhuluma za kijinsia haswa wakati huu wa siasa.” – Amina Musau, Kwale Women of Faith Network

During the Nairobi SGBV training, Rebecca Otachi reminded the women, “Women are co-partners in God’s big plan for procreation and sustenance of the human race.  They are not sexual objects for trade and abuse.  They deserve to be treated with honour and dignity; for both men and women are created in the image of God.  Thus, SGBV must be totally condemned and eradicated from society, starting from our individual homes.”

The Chair of the Kwale Women of Faith, Immaculate Sharon Mungai also emphasized that “It is our right to choose who we want but let us do it in a peaceful way. Let us preach peace before, during and after the election in churches, mosques and temples. Let us not be used by politicians to create violence because as women and children we suffer the most. Let us pray for a peaceful election.”

The women were taken through very practical techniques and skills that are needed to help identify and monitor experiences of SGBV.

During the training, the women held candid conversations on the cost of political violence, especially on women and children. The women mapped out the SGBV hotspot areas and proposed possible solutions that could avert similar scenarios, especially in the upcoming elections.

The women highlighted ways in which the SGBV monitors from the Women of Faith Network could enhance and protection of women in the upcoming elections such as intensive sensitization forums should be conducted in the areas that are likely to experience violence during this election period. Part of the recommendations was to have capacity-building training for SGBV monitors to continue equipping them with the relevant skills.

The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya held training for Women of Faith Leaders across the country, clergy, youth and journalists who were taken through a 3-Days training on being genders monitors; observing, collecting and how to address incidents shared to the Women Situation Room for Peace. The activities focused on risk management, paralegal and trauma-informed counselling. The SGBV monitors were also linked with existing anti-SGBV platforms in the various counties to leverage the existing services.

The Women of Faith Leaders will cascade this training to their various grassroots networks across the country. The women will collaborate and collaborate with existing initiatives to ensure linkages and coordination to address potential conflicts

 “Let us work collectively and have unity of purpose in ensuring our elections are conducted in a free and fair environment. May the glory of our everlasting ALLAH take control and give our entire nation peace, love and unity. We are ready to tap our potential as Women of Faith as peacemakers. – Hawa Abdul Salim, Organizing Secretary, Kwale Women of Faith

By Mary N.

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