Adolescent girls and young women’s access to SRHR, and issues of GBV in Kiambiu Kenya
Sexual Gender Based Violence
This issue is still very rampant, and lately on the rise in my community. The cultural belief that men are the providers naturally, gives them more power and control over women. On countless occasions, I have tried to rescue young women from abusive marriages but they would go back. Why? They are dependent on their partners for literally everything, include decisions on whether to have sex or not – in fact most women don’t have an idea what sexual pleasure is at all. It would be ideal to not only empower the women with sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information and services, but target their partners and friends during sessions on gender-based violence (GBV) and comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). Most men still feel like gender equality and the efforts for young women and adolescent girls (AGYW) to be determined, resilient empowered, AIDS-free, mentored, and safe to achieve their DREAMS is a battle - so they feel insecure.
As an example, in our program we take AGYW for vocational trainings to learn some skills. Most of the target group and their partners are not educated so they have not been exposed as well. One month after starting their courses at the community colleges, many young women begin to change - to dress differently, to practice more self-care, to look good, to start having bigger dreams and voila, the change we have been yearning for! But at some point, they stop going to college and only a handful manage to finish and graduate.
When I engaged them further to understand in depth why this was happening, 90% of those who dropped out indicated that their husbands literally refused, and they can’t go against their will or else they would be beaten up. So instead of improving the situation we end up complicating it. At this point, I cry endlessly in my heart because I can’t seem to convince these young women why this course is more important to them and their family including their children and future. It’s sad. To me, this only means that we may have good intentions and resources to reach out to the AGYW but we must now start thinking on how to engage boys and men in GBV prevention. In fact we should even train community volunteers or champions who will be spearheading campaigns in their community, rather than leaving the job to NGO’s that are funded to do such interventions. Engagement of key community members, including capacity building local leaders and spiritual leaders on GBV, is very important.
I can count at least 20 girls below the age of 18 years in my immediate neighborhood in the ghetto who are either pregnant, with kids and married, or both. The area local administration knows about this. Some of them are beneficiaries of the educational support program, but have re-dropped out of school. Why? The money given is not enough. I think it would be great for DREAMS and other programs to work directly with schools and pay full school fees for the neediest of the needy. If this could be possible, after a year 500 girls have been sponsored fully to attend school and those who are married can be encouraged to go to boarding schools. There could also be a community daycare center for women to drop off their babies when they are leaving for school, vocational courses, work or forums. This will encourage their participation.
In Kenya, perpetrators of violence get their way through the courts by corrupt ways. This discourages AGYW from reporting the so many cases happening because nothing will be done except more ridicule and belittling from the same perpetrators once they are free. Most of us working around AGYW SRHR and GBV are not very conversant with legal issues, and I think to make the situation better, the DREAMS program could partner with legal institutions to pick up, represent and follow up these cases to the end. If they can prosecute even 5 cases that community the knows, it will make a difference and our faith in the justice system will be restored. Or at least train passionate community volunteers on para legal matters and give them some emergency kits to help with telephone airtime and transport whenever they are called upon to rescue, follow up or support [victims of GBV]. I know many who honestly want to help e.g. when a girl has been raped, she must be rushed to the hospital, then police station, then to a safe house, or to see a counselor - all these involves movement from one place to the other and communication – which cost money. Those willing to help hesitate because the truth is they don’t have a penny. So they abandon the case and put it in the hands of the parent of the survivor, who is normally very stressed or confused, and eventually it becomes the mercy of the perpetrator to give some little money for treatment and ‘allowance’, and it ends there. These become examples in the community, and rogue men keep moving from one girl to the next. They must stop this madness. They must be disciplined to know that this is a crime they can’t get away with - which will only be possible if cases are followed up on, the community is educated and girls are taught on healthy choices, all at the same time.
I am a victim of e-violence, cyber bullying, and stalking but there are no laws so far addressing these issues. I remember when I visited the police station to report my case, the policemen were laughing and some said there is no such a thing as e-violence. One who volunteered to help told me to just go back to my husband and beg him to return my passwords because there is no way they could help further. I was like really? This is a private space someone is invading and taking full control over, yet it’s not considered a crime in Kenya? I was furious and frustrated but that was the end of it. You see, a lot of other AGYW who enjoy better living standards have the privilege of owning cell phones and accessing the internet. They might be victims to pedophiles and/or e-violence sooner or later. Maybe we could learn from other countries on how they have dealt with this and what advocacy measures could be taken to push for stronger policies.
Finally, cash transfers are a great idea and very helpful to the beneficiaries. It would be better if the amount is increased (currently they give Ksh.2000 - equivalent to USD20). In most cases, the YW and girls don’t have their own phones or ID, so instead use their parent’s or partner’s, which has turned out to be messy. This results in their needs lacking – especially for things like sanitary towels to help keep them in school during menstruation.