Women from the troubled parts of North Rift have established networks and platforms in their push to spearhead peace-building efforts in areas ravaged by banditry.
The women drawn from Turkana, West Pokot and Marakwet communities have kicked-off talks with their Ethiopian and Ugandan counterparts to take leading roles in the restoration of peace in the North.
Maendeleo ya Wanawake and civil society groups championing women empowerment in Turkana County said rural women if supported, can fully participate in conflict prevention and resolution.
The women have been holding meetings in areas such as Kibish, West Pokot-Turkana, and Kenya-Uganda borders and other border areas near the vast region hit by attacks.
According to Kerio Valley peace icon and former Gender Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Linah Kilimo, the women groups can influence a change of attitude among suspected bandits.
“We had started meeting women from troubled areas in a bid to empower them to champion peace, but the initiative was interrupted. I am encouraging the government to support women in their push to champion peace,” said Kilimo.
Baringo County resident Maureen Lemashepe, on the other hand, asked Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki to embark on women-led peace talks after the conclusion of the ongoing operation.
A message echoed by Nawi Lopem from Kang'aten village in Ethiopia who lauded meetings between Turkana and Ethiopia's Nyangatom women as a step forward towards the achievement of cohesion and lasting peace.
"Whenever there is insecurity, women and girls can’t even access food commodities from the neighbouring trading centres because they are targets. Women can’t even get out of the areas they run to seek refuge in, to get sanitary pads. Attacks along the border have dehumanized women, and it is their time to broker peace," said Ms Lopem
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For Turkana County Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson Jacinta Epeyon, the involvement of women in peace efforts was the missing link in the struggle to attain cohesion in the troubled North.
“Sustained attacks - especially on Turkana community by bandits from Baringo and Samburu counties, and by Toposa from South Sudan, Nyangatom from Ethiopia and Dodoth and Jie from Uganda - have seen women killed, others widowed and children left orphans. We are able to talk to our husbands and sons on the importance of peace and through frequent cross-border dialogues, our impact will be felt," said Epeyon.
Ms Epeyon said that in remote villages such as Kokuro, Kibish, Kamuge, Napak and Napeitom, women and girls cannot easily access water and sanitary towels for their hygiene because of insecure roads leading to shopping centres and water points.
Project officer Ms Lilian Bwire said women in Turkana West sub-county along the Uganda border were now getting an opportunity for their voices to be heard.
“Insecurity has denied their children an opportunity to access basic education as there are no early childhood development and education centres. During cross-border peace dialogues among women, they are advocating lasting peace so that schools, hospitals, markets and roads are constructed," said Ms Bwire.
World Vision and other organizations such as the UN have invested in women empowerment projects in the area but insecurity challenges have persisted.
"With peace, girls in schools such as Kibish Primary will learn in a favourable environment and compete equally with boys. As part of the celebration, we donated sanitary towels to them so that they are hygienically comfortable in class," said Turkana Governor’s spouse, Lilian Ekamais.