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Pain to power: Survivors lead the fight against GBV in counties

Health & Science
 Rose Chemos, Founder, Survivors Network, Bungoma County. [Levis Musumba, Standard]

The scars of the disrupted elections in 2007-2008 and 2017 run deep, leaving communities shattered and lives irreversibly altered.

Mildred Sabina, Rose Chemos and Jael Abukhutsa, from Chepkurkur village in Mount Elgon and Vihiga County, bore witness to the horrific aftermath of mass murder, rape, and defilement.

As victims, their lives changed during the dark periods that followed disputed presidential elections, leaving over 1,133 dead and displacing more than 600,000 people.

Sabina, a mother of three from Kopsiro village in Mount Elgon, vividly recalls the night her husband was killed, and she was gang raped. As the violence spread to her village, she, and seven other women, endured unimaginable trauma.

“I was five months pregnant in January 2008 during the explosion of post-election violence. Four men beat and brutally gang-raped me. I lay motionless, waiting to die. Since that moment, my body has not been the same,” Sabina recalls.

More than ten years after the violence, survivors in these communities continue to grapple with physical and psychological trauma.

The 2022 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) reveals a surge in GBV in Bungoma at 62.2 per cent (623 GBV cases), Vihiga at 33.8 per cent (195 cases), and Kisumu at 36 per cent (420 cases).

This exposes weak societal structures and norms that fail to protect women and girls from the harrowing consequences of sexual violence.

The echo of horror in violence against women in Chepkurkur village is heard at every corner.

“I was 23 when I was gang-raped at our home in Chepkurkur by more than three men who accused my family of hiding men from the ‘enemy’ tribe. My husband was killed that night,” Rose Chemos shares.

“In our culture, women don’t speak about such cases of rape or defilement because it is seen as a shame to the family. So, many of the affected women and girls suffer in silence, some even nursing fistula as a result of the rape incidents,” she says.

In Vihiga County, 52-year-old Jael Abukhutsa from Lusegeti village walks with a limp after her pelvis was ruptured during a rape ordeal in the 2007 violence.

“I was sexually abused in 2007 by over four men, and the trauma of that day remains alive to date. It broke me, but it also cemented my will to fight for human rights,” says Abukhutsa, a mother of four.

She now runs the Blessed Heaven Safe Space, a centre that has rescued 17 children from GBV.

With support from the governments of Italy and Ireland, through UN Women Kenya and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), these women have been empowered to be leaders of change through training programmes on access to justice, prevention, mitigation, and response to violence against women.

Betty Okero, Team Leader of the Civil Societies Network, and implementer of the ‘Let It Not Happen Again’ project says it focuses on preventing, mitigating, and responding to violence against women.

“For the last two years, the numbers have come down, as there is more reporting of cases and legal redress on the same. People now know when and where to report when GBV happens in their communities,” says Ms Okero.

This collaboration has improved relationships between human rights defenders and the police, judiciary, investigators, and health professionals who make up the court users committee at the county level.

“As judicial officers, we have open days where we go to villages and educate the community on access to justice and penalties for crimes,” says Kenneth Cheruiyot, Senior Principal Magistrate at Kisumu Law Court.

Over 200 champions have been trained at the community level to understand GBV risks, and reduce tolerance for incidents of violence in their communities.

Human Rights Defender Euphresher Ageyo, who actively raises awareness on GBV in remote villages of Vihiga, targets individuals aged 14-24 and advocates for women’s rights.

“Vihiga faces a critical gap in lack of safe homes for GBV victims, there is an urgent need to create safe spaces for those rescued to expedite the handling of GBV cases,” said. Ageyo.

Anna Mutavati, the UN Women Kenya Country Representative, lauded the impact the programme has had in the target counties.

“Inadequate funding, persistent negative gender and social norms, poverty, and the absence of viable livelihoods remain substantial driving forces behind gender-based violence,” said Ms Mutavati.

“Integrated efforts from all stakeholders working in these areas are crucial,” she added.

Giovanni Grandi, Head of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation Regional Office in Nairobi, emphasised their commitment to supporting the government’s efforts to end gender-based violence.

“This year we launched the fourth phase of the ‘Let It Not Happen Again’ project, bringing our total commitment towards this initiative to a staggering EUR2.7 million (approximately Sh446 million),” he said.

The promotion of gender equality and the fight against gender-based violence are priority and transversal themes for the action of the Italian Cooperation in Kenya,” he added.

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