Helping women and girls in Kenya

Day 13 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

Combatting gender-based violence can take courage, sensitivity and wisdom. I met Mary*, an ordained minister working in a rural area in Kenya, who showed all of these qualities in her work to help women and girls. 

In this particular area of Kenya, the challenges facing families include limited access to food and water, and high levels of illiteracy. Conflict within families and domestic violence is rife. It is common to see women with missing teeth as they have been so badly beaten. 

Women cannot own animals or land and are very dependent on men. Early marriage is common, with girls as young as eleven often married to men in their fifties and over, frequently as a second or third wife.  When a girl is prepared for marriage she will have to go through the painful ritual of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 

Mary explains that she is ‘surrounded by this community - I could lose trust and [do more harm than good], so I interact with the families.’ Mary is notified if a marriage is likely to take place. Mary will try and talk with the family and if the wedding cannot be prevented in this way, then they will find a discreet way to get the young girl to safety and the care of the government. 

After a girl is brought to safety, the government will start working with the family. The family is not informed that Mary has helped to get the girl protected and she would be at risk if her involvement was discovered:

‘I see girls, I feel angry, so sympathetic, they are very young and innocent. They don’t even know the man she will marry’. 

Mary is not always able to prevent a child marriage, or stop girls being ‘cut’ before their wedding ceremonies, or women being harmed or murdered due to domestic violence. Mary helps girls to remain in their communities, providing support, fellowship and togetherness.  

All of HCR’s work with partners engages with and supports people and local communities and it is from within these communities that change can and does happen.

*Not her real name

Photo credit: Olivier Asselin - UNICEF

Photo credit: Olivier Asselin - UNICEF

Stigma – a personal perspective!

Day 12 of #16DaysofActivism

By Shilpa Shinde

Let’s face it, India doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to valuing women! We rank 174th out of 189 on the gender inequality index.  As the leader of a small NGO I can tell you, it’s a man’s world and I have to work very hard to make my voice heard!  But the issue that has been bothering me most lately is the issue of stigma and particularly how women are affected by it.  

Take my close friend Anugrah*.  She got pregnant before marriage and was unaware that she had been carrying a child for 3 months.  She admits she was very naïve and not aware of much in those days but she was very afraid that her parents and her community would reject her.  

After she and her boyfriend discovered that Anugrah was pregnant, he secretly gave her a drug which he had been told would induce an abortion.  The effect however was to make her very ill, which raised the suspicion of her family, who eventually found out.  Anugrah and her boyfriend’s family then entered discussions and she was put under great pressure, particularly by his family, to abort the baby.  Augrah felt compelled to go through with the abortion, with the promise from her boyfriend’s family that they could get married soon afterwards.  Sadly, not only did they not keep their promise or help her through the procedure, which made her very ill, but they rejected her. They seemed more concerned for their image in society and the church.  

Anugrah was blamed for not ‘not keeping her purity’, while the son was exonerated from any blame, stigma or shame. She has endured rejection and shame from her church and community and even been kicked out of her youth group.  Many of her friends rejected her.   

Thankfully the story doesn’t end there.  Anugrah is now one of our key workers, helping our charity, Seva, serve poor and marginalised indigenous or Adivasi communities in our state.  She has amazing empathy, especially with girls and women, who suffer greatly.  And they love her… they know she feels their pain. 

Seva is a key HCR-partner in India, using a community-centred media approach to bring about holistic transformation among tribal communities (see http://www.h-c-r.org/news/2018/9/12/village-gets-a-new-voice)

*Not her real name

Anugrah.jpg

Women have a voice

Day 11 of #16DaysofActivism

By Johnny Fisher and Hazeen Latif

This year the UK celebrated 100 years of women being able to vote. Before that democracy was interpreted to mean “rule by the men” rather than “rule by the people”. This development has been repeated over and over again. Women around the world are be able to participate fully and equally in decision-making at community and national level. Sadly, in many communities, people are unaware of these national developments and the threat of violence is often used to prevent women from speaking out in public conversations. 

In Pakistan women do participate in public life and Pakistan is one of an increasing number of countries to have had a female prime minister. But in some Pakistani communities it would be considered offensive for a woman to engage in influential conversations at community or family level. Women who try to do so face threats of violence and exclusion. 

HCR supports a community-centred radio project in one such community. Community activists have worked together to get training and put community radio programmes on air. However, the participants in the radio work are all men. Women do participate in complementary off-air activities, and one lady, Zakia*, has been running health and hygiene workshops for women and girls. Another older lady in the community has offered her home for Zakia to run vocational groups for women and girls. The older lady said, “We have to do this, whatever the cost to me”.  Inspired by this Zakia also spoke to an HCR associate about getting involved in radio. She realised it could be very dangerous for her as it might invite repercussions from the wider community. But she believes that radio by women and girls, for women and girls would extend the benefits of the workshops to more people. Zakia said to our associate, “Someone must stand up and speak, and I will do it”. 

HCR is supporting women who want to engage in public life through radio. We are also speaking up for the many women whose voices are not heard because they have been intimidated into silence by the threat of violence.

*Not her real name

in some Pakistani communities it would be considered offensive for a woman to engage in influential conversations at community or family level.

in some Pakistani communities it would be considered offensive for a woman to engage in influential conversations at community or family level.

Violence is never okay

Day 10 of #16DaysofActivism

By Dane Waters

The keystone to transformational development is building trust and relationships. At HCR we endeavour to build trust with all people we work with, as we walk alongside communities. Trust is critical and particularly highlighted when working on family violence and women’s empowerment issues. In the Mid West, Western Australia we are continually confronted with family violence issues. Women who we have built trusting relationships with, come to us in all levels of distress due to family violence. As the Family Law Act 1995 in Australia states:

Domestic and family violence occurs when someone tries to control their partner or other family members in ways that intimidate or oppress them. Controlling behaviours can include threats, humiliation (‘put downs’), emotional abuse, physical assault, sexual abuse, financial exploitation and social isolations, such as not allowing contact with family or friends.

Women who have shared their stories with us have experienced controlling behaviours from physical assault to financial exploitation, and when victims come to us we support them to seek appropriate services. All women and men need to be empowered to stand up to all types of intimidating behaviour. Alongside supporting individual women, we also work with community champions and local services to develop community media strategies to help provide critical information to those in need with regards to family violence. This includes recording and broadcasting community service announcements about services available. We are passionate about working on this issue and making a stand, because violence is never okay.

All women and men need to be empowered to stand up to all types of intimidating behaviour.

All women and men need to be empowered to stand up to all types of intimidating behaviour.

Protecting Women - Valuing Girls in North Kivu

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Day 9 of #16DaysofActivism

By Jon Hargreaves

I photographed the billboard above recently in a remote village in North Kivu in the DRC. It depicts two men molesting a woman with the words: “You wouldn’t do this if it was your mother, would you!” It is a stark reminder of the widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated in this country, notably as a weapon of war and coercion. Ravaged by over twenty years of conflict, with 3.7 million internally displaced people, UNWomen estimates that over 1 million women have been raped in the DRC.

HCR’s partner station in North Kivu, Umoja FM seeks to prevent and respond to sexual violence by building community resilience and changing attitudes about the value of women and girls, especially their education. The station runs programmes which provide counselling and trauma healing for survivors as well as advice for young people. In a meeting with listeners a few weeks ago I heard many stories of how the radio station has made a huge difference since 2016, when it was launched by Feba UK in collaboration with HCR and a local NGO, Esader.

One listener said: “In Watalinga (district) there was an attitude that we had to marry our girls at a very young age and so there was no point educating them. But the radio has changed all that, and I should know, because I used to think like that.” Another said that although many NGO’s had come and gone, the radio is always with them, helping them, bringing new ideas.

Station Manager Baraka Basweki told me, “We are changing community attitudes towards the value of women and girls. As one person changes so they influence another and another - you can feel it is different now.”