15 years old and 4 months Pregnant!
- 3 Articles
Upon our arrival at Barsaloi in Samburu North (North-west Kenya), to coordinate and Facilitate a Gender based Violence response and prevention workshop, We got information that one woman had suffered injuries on her left arm that very night, after being battered by her brother in law. This incident caused a slight unrest in the small town that is out of network coverage and lacks hydro-electric power supply. The lady was rushed to the Catholic hospital nearby. During the workshop, one of the workshop participants said: "I got married at the age of 14, I cried so much that night because I was scared" In this particular community women get married at a tender age having gone through (FGM) Female Genital Mutilation which is a stipulated rite of passage. This procedure involves the unnecessary cut, incision or excision of any part of the female genital organs for cultural, ritual or social purposes depending on the community. Some of the negative effects of the same include injury to adjacent tissues of urethra, vagina, perineum, and rectum, hemorrhages, shock, acute urine retention and recurrent urinary tract Infections At the tender age of 14 the girl child has gone through FGM and has a husband to take care of. Marriage takes precedence over education for the girl child. The dowry paid is a source of wealth for her parents.
From our interactions with the participants during the workshop they told us that the woman in Samburu community is regarded as the weaker sex. She can seldom own land or property. Men have control over their wives in every sense of the word. "I am sure that one of us shall be beaten up tonight for attending this particular seminar" said Ntitoo one of the women in the group that was been trained. The contention was that the woman should never go back to the house late for whatever reason. She should stay in the house and take care of the husband, children and the Family’s property. Most of the victims of gender based violence are afraid to speak out because of the “culture of silence” The stories on this post are shared by one among the few women who are able to speak out in order to seek Justice for themselves and their children. However names have been changed to conceal identities of the victims.
“I first met with Patrick* in 2007. I was married to him in accordance to Samburu customs and traditions. We have three children: Cleophas* 6 years, Evans* 4 years and Nasieku* 2 years. My husband is currently working as a watchman in Maralal animal slaughter house. He has often beaten me up for reasons well known to him. More often than not, my husband has brought women to our house and had sex with them on our matrimonial bed. He does all this in my presence and he forces me to sleep on floor so that he can have pleasure with a woman in our bed. He has never respected our children and has currently refused to support me financially.”
“I first met with Denis*in 2001. We have four children; Lucy* 13 years, Geoffrey *10 years, Peris* 9 years and Simon* 3 years and 7 months old. Our marriage has been difficult from the onset, we quarreled a lot. The conflict we have is because my husband has been under influence of alcohol and a drug called “Bhang”. He put my life in danger by driving a vehicle through our house while I was inside with one child (Peris). He was trying to kill me. He also once sent his brothers to beat me. He did threaten me many times. He once tried to set our house on fire using gas and paraffin from the stove,with my children and I inside. On one occasion, he took a gun and tried to shoot me. I have reported these cases to the police but I don’t get the desired results. He ends up bribing his way out of these cases. Eventually my husband chased me away from our home. Currently I am living with my sister and our first born child Lucy.
My other three children are with his sister Anne.* Dennis is now married to another woman. My biggest worry is that my other children are not receiving proper maternal care. I have been separated from my kids who I can’t visit at my own preferred time as a mother.”
During workshop on gender based violence response and prevention. In Opiroi, a small Town in Samburu that is out of mobile telephone network coverage and lacks Hydro-electric power. We met 15 year old Nasherua* She was four months pregnant had undergone female genital mutilation, has never been to school and can only speak in her mother tongue. She told me that her husband was working Nairobi which is 375 kilometers away from her. She was all by herself and from what I could see the lady was living in abject poverty.
In Samburu Central there is a girls rescue centre (Mary Immaculate Girls Education and Rescue centre) inside the Suguta parish premises.. The centre accommodates girls who have escaped from their homes to find shelter there. The girls are victims of FGM, forced/ early marriages and beading. One of the girls in the rescue centre walked all the way from Wamba-Samburu East to the rescue centre a distance of approximately 160 kilometers. The sister in charge of the rescue centre says that it is difficult to support these girls without funding. The girls depend on the rescue centre for most of their basic needs which include sanitary towels, education, stationery, food, clothing and shelter on a monthly basis.
As the gender Focal person in Caritas Maralal, I have learnt that in all our efforts to empower women and girls through development or gender work we must involve men through building capacities and creating an environment that allows them to see the evidence of impact of our community interventions. Men in these communities are the heads of the households, they lead and the women follow.
They are the same people who shall refuse to marry any uncircumcised girls. They have to understand the negative effects of Female Genital Mutilation among other negative and harmful traditional practices. Community based interventions can either cause or reduce conflict. Thus we have to be conflict sensitive about men and boys when empowering women and girls in Samburu. Changing their mindsets is an uphill task but it does not deter our activities. Some of the activities that can be undertaken to reduce cases of gender based violence in Samburu County include:
· Training of men on GBV prevention and response after which they can be used as agents of change in GBV prevention and response.
· Establishing an award scheme for male champions on GBV prevention and response at community level.
· Fabrication of “speak out boxes” in schools for victims of GBV to share their story. If they are afraid to talk about it openly.
· Information dissemination by using theatre, drama, cultural and entertainment groups.
· Capacity building for implementers of projects, policy makers and target beneficiaries on GBV prevention and response.
· Developing and implementing behavioral change programs.