School boys and girls in rape-prone city slums are now being taught how to stop sexual assault.
They are being empowered to say no, yell out of a tight box and even hit assailants’ soft spots.
When 17-year-old Josphine Juma from Korogocho found herself in a compromising situation when a male friend asked her to visit him at his house, she used a skill from a class she was only too glad to have enrolled in.
“He was my friend and so the invitation was not a surprise. What was surprising, however, is what he tried to do when I got there,” she narrated.
She said her friend latched the door when she entered the house and told her how much he loved her. When she did not reciprocate, he grabbed her shoulders and tried to force himself on her.
“I was able to get away but only because I used a tactic I had learnt in the No Means No class. I lied. I told him to let me go and give me some time to think about what he had said,” she explained.
The idea to lie to get herself out of that situation is one of the many skills girls in both primary and secondary school are being taught to stop rape.
The initiative, dubbed No Means No, is going on in the five urban informal settlements in Nairobi - Mukuru kwa Njenga, Huruma/Mathare, Kibera, Korogocho and Dandora.
The training shows girls what to do if they ever find themselves in a rape environment. The programme, an initiative by Ujamaa Africa, seeks to equip girls with skills to help them stop rape and boys to stand up for girls rather than be perpetrators of the vice.
“Ujamaa Africa did a survey in Korogocho that revealed the prevalence of rape was quite high at 28 per cent. This was the beginning of the initiative, especially for primary school pupils. We are teaching girls how to use different skills to get away from sticky situations,” said Nancy Akoth, the programme officer.
She said girls are being taught how to use their voice to stop violence, with physical self-defence being the very last resort.
“We are teaching them that they can use their voice to, for example, lie to an attacker to get away, negotiate with an attacker and speak up and be assertive towards people around them,” said Ms Akoth.
She also said faking compliance on a girl’s part is another skill being taught.
“Pretend to go along with the attacker’s plan and steer him to a place that will be to your advantage,” she explained.
The girls are also being taught how to name the offence or exactly what happened to them, how to be more aware of their surroundings, how to take advantage of their intuition and how to create boundaries and have people respect them.
“We also teach the girls some physical skills they can use to get away. One is called What is Free and What is Open. This means what part of the girl’s body is free and what part of the assailant’s body is open. She can, for example, use her knee if it is free to hit the assailant’s groin if that area is open,” Akoth explained.
Other physical skills taught to the girls during the six-week intensive programme include weapons – nails, legs, arms – and soft targets.
The boys’ programme, on the other hand, tries to change some of the retrogressive attitudes and mindsets they may have towards girls and women.
It teaches them that they can stand up for girls and some of the skills they can use to stop, say, an assault on a girl, which includes using their voice.
“Initially, the training was just for girls but we introduced a boys’ programme because we learnt through our surveys that 52 per cent of rape or violence against girls and women was carried out by boys, especially at high school level,” said Collins Omondi, the field co-ordinator.
For Joyce Nyambura, a Standard Seven pupil at Mbagathi Road Primary School, the No Means No training has already taught her how to stand up for herself. And for Sam Odila, a Standard Six pupil, the training has taught him about the different stages of manhood and seen him stop nagging girls in class like he used to.
For Reuben Tietie and Sarah Nyaboth, both in Standard Six, the training has helped them learn to be more aware of their surroundings. Sarah points out that she is even teaching her neighbours and younger sisters everything she learns.