When Maureen Juma was 16 years old she went through a painful experience that has been putting her through years of mental anguish.
“It was during the school holidays when I was in high school. We had visited our rural home in Kakamega. One evening, my mother sent me to the market to buy some food,” narrates Maureen, who is now a 23-year-old single mother of one. “On the way, I encountered my father’s friend and two other men. He called me to go and talk to me. Trusting his relationship with my father, I approached them,” she narrates.
“However, instead of a benign interaction, he, along with his friends, forcibly dragged me into a maize plantation and subjected me to rape. I was unconscious until 10 pm that night,” Maureen narrates.
This incident left lasting mental scars. For seven years, she suffered in silence, unable to share her trauma.
“The lack of information on mental health and sexual abuse in my hometown made it even harder,” Maureen says.
It wasn’t until she moved to Nairobi and, encouraged by her cousin, attended a Wangu Kanja meeting, that Maureen found the strength to open up.
“Speaking out after seven years has made me feel better, and I now urge other victims to seek help. Keeping quiet only perpetuates mental anguish,” she says.
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For Maureen, the significance of the 16 Days of Activism is profound.
“As a survivor, I view these 16 days as an opportunity to spread awareness. As we unite against gender-based violence (GBV), I see it as my duty to educate and protect other girls. Wangu Kanja has been a bridge that allowed me to share my story and facilitated my mental growth,” Maureen says.
Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prevalent and pervasive human rights violations in the world.
Despite many countries passing laws to combat violence against women, weak enforcement and discriminatory social norms remain significant problems.
Globally, an estimated 736 million women - almost one in three - have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their life.
In Kenya, the statistics are equally distressing, with 34 per cent of women aged 15-49 experiencing violence in their lifetime, and 13 per cent facing sexual violence, often underreported.
Kenya, too, grapples with the pervasive issue, as revealed by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), stating that over 4 in 10 women have faced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.
Disturbingly, early marriage affects 1 in 4 girls, while approximately 1 in 5 undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).
According to the United Nations the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, launched on November 25, spans until Human Rights Day on December 10.
This year, the United Nations focuses on the theme UNiTE! Invest To Prevent Violence against Women and Girls, using #NoExcuse to emphasise the importance of financing prevention strategies and transforming societal norms.
Through Activate Nairobi Campaign and Physicians For Human Rights, survivors from Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums, Starehe, Dandora, and Kayole gathered at the Dandora Phase 3 social hall on November 25 to discuss challenges related to the accessibility, availability, and quality of healthcare services for survivors of sexual violence.
Wangu Kanja Foundation is a survivor-led feminist non-profit national organization that focuses on addressing sexual violence regarding prevention, protection and response.
Angeline Nandwa, a member of the Single Mothers Association of Kenya and a volunteer for the Children’s Office, highlighted the achievements and challenges faced by their group in combating GBV.
“We take pride in the strides we’ve made, securing a life sentence for a perpetrator who defiled his three daughters and infected them with HIV. However, our efforts are hindered by challenges, including corrupt practices where perpetrators bribe chiefs to escape justice,” Angeline says.
She added that many parents fear reporting cases of defilement or rape due to potential victimisation, leaving countless incidents unreported.
“Additionally, the incompetence of our Starehe local chief compounds the problem, leading to many unresolved cases,” Angeline added.
Roselyne Mkabana, the Head of the GBV Unit in the Nairobi County government, emphasised the importance of the 16 Days of Activism in eradicating violence against women and girls. She acknowledged the major hurdle faced by the county: the justice system.
“We have had so many cases and this year alone 3000 cases of sexual violence have been reported only 12 of those cases have reached the courts and out of the 12 cases only 5 cases have reached positive conviction,” she said.
In the collective fight against GBV, Roselyne called upon men to be allies in order to make the campaign against GBV a success.
“We want men to be allies, we want men to be protectors. There is no way we are going to end violence without having them come on board and understand what is going on”, Roselyne notes.
According to Mkabana, health practitioners tend to look at the physical component of a survivor whenever they come to the facility forgetting they are also suffering mentally thus the survivors end up getting mental illness because they have trauma that has not been worked on.
Activate Nairobi Campaign was launched on November 24 at the University of Nairobi. It encompasses various events such as movie screenings, theatre performances, community dialogues and high-level panels to mobilise the community against gender-based violence.