Women unite to rebuild their lives after surviving electoral violence

Besides providing emotional support, the women came together to push for justice given that most of their attackers have never been punished. [Olivia Odhiambo, Standard]

Each member of the group has a specific task. The marketing is done by all of them and they share the proceeds.

The group dubbed Society of Women Empowerment Network (Swen) was formed in 2019 and initially had 20 members. Some, however, quit the group while others died.

The women have participated in different trade fairs and exhibitions after which they share the profits equally.

Their products go for between Sh1,000 and Sh3,000. The group makes at least Sh15,000 profit every month. This amount does not include soap which they sell daily.

Trade fairs

Otieno says they have taken part in trade fairs in Nairobi and a recent one during the Africities summit in Kisumu.

When they are not selling in trade fairs they take their goods to markets within Kisumu such as Kibuye.

Otieno says Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) came to them when they were at their lowest and has walked with them through the healing process.

"Initially, we were not even in a position to talk. KMET trained us on trauma management and the various income generating activities that we are now involved in. They also gave us funds to start the businesses," she narrates.

She says every time they meet survivors from other parts of the country they challenge them because of the milestones they have made.

Otieno says now they are training youths on survival tactics and how they can protect themselves incase of any violence against them.

"Our families are now happy. We are doing well mentally and financially we can now take care of them. We have remained ten of us after some of our members left. This is a group of survivors only," she adds.

Tatu* who was physically assaulted during post-election violence told The Standard that she found comfort at the workshop.

The women earn a living from making dresses, pots, baskets and beaded jewellery. [Olivia Odhiambo, Standard]

"I have been struggling to overcome the trauma I went through in 2017 after I was attacked by a gang of men at the height of post election violence. However, I have found peace among fellow survivors in the group," she says.

Safe spaces

During a visit to the women's network, Harriet Chigai, advisor of women's rights in the office of President William Ruto, noted that the government has plans to partner with women groups dealing with cases of teenage pregnancies, spread of HIV and Aids and gender-based violence among other issues.

She says there are plans to tailor-make safe spaces to address key needs on the ground.

"You find that most of the safe spaces constructed are not working and are not able to admit victims and that is raising a lot of questions. It is for this reason that the government is working and partnering with existing women groups for way forward," she adds.

She says there are a lot of policies emanating from the national government trickling down to county governments and there is need to now work together to make things work.

She notes that there are plans through her office to work on statistics of gender based violence victims which in turn will help formulate more policies to role out programs that are self sustaining.

In Manyatta, where the group has established a workshop, several families were victims of post-election violence in 2007, 2013 and 2017.

A 2017 electoral violence report by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) released in 2021 during Kisumu Women's Conference documented 51 cases of sexual violence that happened in the lakeside town.

The cases were mostly sexual assault against women victims in Migori, Vihiga and Kisumu counties with perpetrators being mainly state agents.

The reports indicate that the three counties were largely affected since they were the opposition stronghold, affecting victims psychologically with losses to family ties.