As cases of gender-based violence, early marriages and teenage pregnancies rise under the current grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, a Non-governmental organization has launched a programme in Nakuru, to help victims overcome trauma associated with the vices.
Through funding from the Aga Khan Foundation and United States International Aid Agency (USAID), Youth African Women Initiative (YAWI) is also working with creative artists and content developers to produce material on detection, prevention and legal remedies of gender based violence through films, theatre, music, poetry and stage plays.
YAWI executive director Ms Fidelis Wambui Karanja states that the initiative dubbed ‘Kuimarisha Project’ that has brought on board 15 community based organizations and youth groups in Nakuru was launched following a surge in the vices with perpetrators identified as mainly close family members such as intimate partners and relatives.
Ms Karanja says difficulties in accessing healthcare services and the fear of seeking counseling because of the containment measures are some of the challenges that the victims face.
She petitions the County government to help in setting up protection measures such as provision for safe spaces in all the 11 Sub-Counties where women and girls, survivors or those at risk of this criminality, can seek solace far from their abusers – family or otherwise.
The need for safe houses, rescue centres and shelters, notes the Executive Director cannot be gainsaid at this time, when people are being directed to stay at home as part of efforts to fight the spread of the horrendous virus.
“We are empowering the women and youth groups to equip community members at the grassroots level with knowledge on GBV, how they can protect themselves and where to seek medical help when they face such situations.
Cases of rape, female genital mutilation and illegal abortions have also increased significantly in the past three months. The rise in these forms of violence, where women and girls are the main victims, is attributed to stress as a result of economic hardships, among other causes” she says.
Ms Karanja says the project has unveiled the Elewa Haki product where information on gender based violence and human rights is shared through zoom meetings and online platforms via social media.
“We are working closely with the Nairobi Women Hospital’s Gender Based Violence Center where we refer victims for counseling and treatment. Police Gender Desk is our crucial partner as they help survivors report cases and seek justice.
The project has incorporated the component of counseling girls who are impregnated with a view of rehabilitating them back to their normal lives and education activities. We are also working with various departments at the two levels of government to ensure all safety structures tailored to women and girls’ needs are working,” she explains.
Hannah Kimani, chairlady to Subukia Women Group says teen pregnancies, including from incestuous abusive situations are rising to alarming proportions in the Sub-County.
She cites a case of a standard six girl who was impregnated by her uncle but could not report to authorities as the issue was hushed up by the family.
“We are now speaking ourselves hoarse, calling for specific actions to stop SGBV in its tracks. Women and youth groups in this area are now actively seeking protection for survivors and those at risk and criminal prosecution for perpetrators.
Many at the grassroots do not even know that the National Police Service through the Directorate of Community Policing, Gender and Child Protection has established a toll-free helpline where cases of GBV can be reported and those affected get support,” she notes.
Ms Kimani states that the move by National Police Service gives hope that women and girls who are, and have been, at risk of domestic and sexual violence can comfortably seek support.
Elvis Emitati from Nakuru Cultural Creative Center says the initiative is encouraging playwrights and music composers to create content that promotes national moral values, family values and peaceful co-existence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Members of the center who include artistes, musicians, poets, actors, storytellers and spoken word artists who are working on diverse stories of Covid-19 and how communities are coping with GBV, while film makers are crafting productions promoting awareness and prevention of GBV and teenage pregnancies.
“We are working to bring on board Photography, crafts, cartoons, print-making and ceramics that reinforce messages against violence and advocate for social cohesion and peaceful coexistence among Kenyan families.
The center is also reaching out to visual artists who produce murals and graffiti in various public spaces and public parks reinforcing rejection of gender based violence,” says Emitati.
By Anne Mwale and Dennis Rasto