Author Archives: WKF Activist

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Survivors of Sexual Violence in Kenya Break their Silence

Category : Justice

Kenyans are currently awaiting a decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on whether or not the trial in The Hague against President Uhuru Kenyatta will proceed. The Kenyatta case has garnered significant attention because the defendant is a sitting head of state. However, the case is also noteworthy because it represents the only major effort to investigate and initiate prosecution of sexual violence committed against women, men, and children during Kenya’s 2007–2008 post-election violence (PEV). While the ICC’s case against President Kenyatta has received much attention, many Kenyans will be focusing on remarkable public interest litigation unfolding in their own High Court in Nairobi next week. Despite enormous risk, eight courageous survivors broke their silence and demanded action from the government of Kenya, filing a petition in February 2013 against the attorney general, the director of public prosecutions, and members of the police and public health authorities. In addition to the eight survivors (six women and two men) who suffered sexual violence during this period, the petitioners include Physicians for Human Rights, Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-Kenya), and Independent Medical-Legal Unit (IMLU). The petition demands that it is the government’s responsibility to protect civilians against sexual violence and ensure credible police investigations and prosecutions of these crimes. The petition is premised on the notion that the primary responsibility to protect citizens and provide redress when rights are violated lies with each sovereign state. In this instance, the government of Kenya bears legal responsibility entrenched in the county’s constitution and international and regional human rights treaties adopted by Kenya to enact and enforce laws, establish effective complaint mechanisms, and support competent tribunals that prohibit and sanction sexual violence. Further, the government is obligated to promptly and impartially investigate, prosecute, and punish alleged perpetrators of sexual violence, and provide adequate compensation to victims of these crimes. Moreover, whenever such violence occurs, the government must ensure that survivors have adequate access to medical services and psychological care. After a year of postponements and deferrals, a hearing of the petition is finally scheduled to take place in the High Court of Kenya on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, during which the eight survivors will assert their rights and have an opportunity to hold the government to account. Their testimonies will reveal that the government failed not only to train and prepare law enforcement officials to protect civilians from sexual violence, but also denied survivors emergency medical services following the violations. Furthermore, even as the director of public prosecutions insists that there is no evidence to prosecute PEV cases, the survivors will demonstrate that the police refused to document their claims and that the government’s continued inaction represents persistent and willful neglect to codify effective measures to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. The survivors will also argue that the government has failed to provide comprehensive reparations. The eight petitioners, of course, are not the only survivors of the widespread and brutal acts of sexual violence perpetrated during the PEV. They are representative of more than 900 other victims, whose testimonies and reports were submitted to the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) in 2008, detailing gruesome incidents of individual and gang rape, defilement, forced circumcision, sodomy, and other forms of sexual brutality. These violations resulted in severe physical injuries and detrimental psychological and socio-economic effects, among other serious health complications, that many survivors have borne over the last six years. As both international legal principles and Kenya’s constitution mandate, the state has the responsibility to comprehensively punish the perpetrators of these violations and provide redress to survivors. This case provides the government of Kenya with the chance to finally articulate its political will and commitment to meaningfully addressing PEV crimes and combatting sexual violence, particularly against vulnerable groups such as women and children who are consistently disproportionately affected by this vice. Let’s hope the government of Kenya does not miss this historic opportunity. - Source: Physicians For Human Rights

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One third of Kenyan girls subjected to sexual violence – survey

Category : Research

NAIROBI (TrustLaw) – Nearly one in three Kenyan girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18, according to a report launched by the Kenyan government and the United Nations on Wednesday. Three quarters of Kenyan children experience physical, sexual or emotional violence, according to the findings of the first nationwide household survey of more than 3,000 young people aged 13 to 24. “The survey results depict a sobering picture of pervasive and insidious violence that afflicts the entire country,” Naomi Shaban, minister of gender, children and social development, said at the launch of the Violence Against Children Survey. Sexual violence – defined as sexual touching or attempted sex against the child’s will or coerced or forced sex – was experienced by 32 percent of Kenyan girls and 18 percent of boys before the age of 18. This figure is much higher than that of the government’s 2008/9 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey which found that one in five women and girls are victims of sexual violence. Rape is rarely reported in Kenya due to stigma and a lack of faith in the police and the criminal justice system, although the country has strong legislation to protect children from sexual assault. The survey found that the most common perpetrators were boyfriends or girlfriends, followed by neighbours and family members. One in three girls who were raped became pregnant as a result. Only three percent of sexually abused girls received professional help. There was a clear correlation between experience of sexual violence and engagement in risky sexual behaviour. Girls who were victims of unwanted touching or rape were four times as likely as other girls to have multiple sexual partners. Physical violence – defined as punching, kicking, whipping or being threatened with a weapon – was most widely experienced. Almost six out of 10 children had been physically abused by an authority figure, most commonly teachers. More than half the respondents had experienced physical violence at the hands of relatives.


Most disturbing among the findings was that the majority of children accepted violence in the home as normal, particularly if they themselves had experienced it. “Much of violence against children… remains hidden and at times is socially approved or acceptable. That is very sad,” said Franklin Esipila, permanent secretary in the ministry of gender, children and social development. Among girls aged 18 to 24, 49 percent condoned violence by a husband towards his wife. This increased to 56 percent among girls who had experienced childhood violence. Unsurprisingly, the figures for boys were even worse. There was 62 percent approval of domestic violence among boys aged 18 to 24 who had not been abused, rising to 65 percent among those who had experienced violence themselves. “These attitudes must change in order to help mitigate the occurrence of domestic violence, both against women and against children,” the report said. “This remains the single greatest area for policy reform at the national level.” Other social attitudes and practices that justify violence against children identified by the survey include the use of violence as a form of discipline, child labour, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, prejudice against disabled children, family breakdown, homophobia and the myth that sex with virgins can cure HIV/AIDS.


A 2006 U.N. report found that 14 percent of girls and seven percent of boys around the world experience sexual violence. “Violence breeds violence,” it said. “In later life, child victims of violence are more likely to be victims or perpetrators themselves.” It also found that violence perpetuates poverty, illiteracy and early death. “The physical, emotional and psychological scars of violence rob children of their chance to fulfil their potential,” the report said. “Ending violence will increase opportunities for development and growth.” The Kenyan government said it plans to set up child protection centres, staffed by social welfare officers, across the country to help abused children. The survey found that just one in four girls and one in eight boys knew where to get help after they were sexually abused. Childline Kenya, a free national helpline for children, receives 40,000 calls a month.

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The Accountability Gap on Sexual Violence in Kenya

Category : Research

This briefing paper reviews the Kenyan government’s response to sexual and gender-based violence committed against women, men, and children during the 2007/2008 post-election crisis. It draws on interviews with over 40 survivors about their experience and analyzes the laws and transitional justice mechanisms, like the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence, that have been put in place to address violations of the past and prevent their recurrence. It includes a set of recommendations to the government, the Attorney-General’s Office, and the National Police Service Commission on closing the accountability gap. ICTJ-Briefing-Kenya-SGBVAccountability-2014.pdf

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Nairobi’s ‘miniskirt’ march exposes sexual violence in Kenya

Category : Research

At the busy intersection of Accra Road and Tom Mboya Street in downtown Nairobi, a cacophony of voices clamour to be heard. Buses and vans vie for space on the roadside, and touts solicit passengers to ply their routes. Nearly everyone is on the move. Shortly after 12pm on 17 November, one noise superseded all the rest – that of more than 200 women, plus a few men, marching, blowing whistles, chanting and yelling for their constitutional right to be protected from sexual violence, and to wear a miniskirt. Ten days ago, according to Kenyan media reports, a woman wearing a red dress was stripped by a mob of men at this spot. They accused her of being inappropriately dressed. According to a driver and co-driver of a minibus who recall the assault, two men began it but others quickly joined in – “for fun”, the co-driver, Robert Ndungata, said. Driver Juguna Maina said he and others tried to stop them, but failed. “You can’t control the mob,” he said. A passer-by captured the attack on his mobile phone, and the video was posted on YouTube. It was one of a number of such incidents to play out on social media in recent months, but none had captured the public’s attention to such an extent. Twitter was ablaze with hashtags, some advocating for women to cover up rather than be #scantilydressed, others arguing #MyDressMyChoice. It quickly escalated into a debate about women’s rights. A link to the video was posted to a Facebook group, Kilimani Mums Nairobi, part of an online support network for mothers. On 12 November, a group of 10 Kilimani mums, connected only by social media, met for the first time. They decided it was their duty “to deliver a message to the touts who who stripped our sister that it is wrong and a woman has the right to dress the way she sees fit”, Kilimani mum Ruth Knaust wrote to members of the Facebook group. From this seed, the #MyDressMyChoice march was born. Sexual violence is widespread in Kenya. A 2010 national survey (pdf) indicated that 32% of girls experienced sexual violence before becoming adults. Being stripped in public is nothing new in Kenya, says Christopher Kirwa, who turned out to support the #MyDressMyChoice movement. In the early 1990s, there was a lot of stripping, he says. The difference now is that it is more visible and there is more awareness of it, due largely to social media. Kirwa, who owns an experimental marketing agency, was shocked when Robert Alai, an influential Kenyan blogger, tweeted in support of forcibly undressing women. “There’s more to it than lack of education. On social media, there are ladies supporting what happened. The educated masses that are supporting it tells me we have a bigger problem,” he said. “Kenya is becoming more free, more liberal, more modernised, and there are people who are against that,” said Yvonne Kerre, the owner of a chain of clothing stores, Miss Kerre Fashions, that is thriving thanks to women becoming more expressive. Some churches in Nairobi have spoken out against wearing short skirts, both at church and outside. Minibus touts in downtown Nairobi speak of an invisible line across the city, dividing where it’s acceptable to be seen in a short skirt, and where it’s not. The general consensus is that one inch above the knee is the limit. It’s clear that there is a strong, conservative core. Two women, a bus conductor and an inspector, working on the Embassava bus stand where the stripping incident allegedly happened, believe that any skirt above the knee is morally reprehensible, and that the woman in red, who was stripped here, was the one in the wrong. “If she’s raped, it’s her fault,” says Naomi Mang’era, the inspector, of any women who wear “micro-mini skirts”. “Our country should be like Uganda – short skirts should be banned,” says a male bus tout. The two women agree. “One has to locate this in the general discrimination against women, widespread stereotypes and chauvinistic tendencies of our society,” says Amnesty’s east Africa researcher, Japhet Biegon. There has been progress, he says; in 2006, Kenya enacted the Sexual Offences Act, which defined what sexual offences were. Before that it was a moral issue, the legal system skewed in favour of perpetrators. The Milimani Mums are calling for police to operate mobile units so that women can report cases from the safety of their own homes. Lilian Manegene, one of the protest’s co-organisers, says there are laws in place to protect women, but they are not enforceable because the victims are afraid of going to a police station. Currently, victims must report cases in person at police stations. Kenya’s truth, justice and reconciliation commission took this recommendation one step further, advocating a one-stop centre for victims of sexual violence to receive medical care and counselling, give evidence, and deal with police, under one roof in a place where they feel safe. The only voice absent from the noisy proceedings on 17 November was that of the woman in red whose stripping sparked it all. “The lady in red is sitting somewhere,” shouted Manegene, addressing the crowd. “We are living in fear.” “We hope by the end of this she’ll be bold enough to come out,” a bystander remarked. - Source: The Guardian

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Slow gains recorded in fight against sexual violence

Category : News

Personal initiative remains the most effective way of fighting Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Teaching close family members and communities how to detect, prevent and report cases of S/GBV may be the only guard against falling victim to perpetrators since the vice cuts across all socio-economic groups in Kenya. Statistics from Gender Violence Recovery Centre, a department of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital shows that the total number of SGBV cases reported in 2011-12 were 2,954. This was 45 cases more compared to the previous year. There was a marked increase of physical violence reported during the same period from 388 to 422. “These statistics are harrowing,” says Mr. Kennedy Otina, Men to Men Programme Coordinator, FEMNET, who moderated a gender forum on the 27th of February 2014. “One of five women face sexual violence and 45% of women between 15 years to 45 years have experienced physical or sexual violence in Kenya.” Notably, a girl is raped every thirty minutes. Attentive to the panel discussion

Forum inspires formulation of policies

Heinrich Boell Stiftung partnered with FEMNET and Africa UNITE Kenya chapter to convene the forum attracting 224 participants drawn from academia, civil activists, government institutions, students and the general public to share knowledge and inspire renewed action on issues of S/GBV. Although there was general agreement on the strides made by the government towards formulating policies, including the Sexual offence Act 2006, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) that empower institutions to tackle SGBV crimes, there is laxity in law enforcement which continues to persist. 224 people attending the Gender Forum on SGBV in Kenya This was clearly exposed by a Meru Court last year after finding police guilty of failing to enforce existing laws to reported cases in the region. In the case, known as ‘160 girls project’, legal professionals from Malawi, Ghana and Kenya worked to secure legal remedies to force the state to protect girls from sexual violence and hold rapists accountable. It was a landmark accomplishment. Applauding on the boldness of the girls for facing their perpetrators- some of them close family members, Ms. Jane Serwanga, an advocate of the High Court and former Deputy Executive DirectorFIDA Kenya says that they had to develop a strategy since the shelter in Meru where the girls sought refuge was exhausted at the prevalence of the cases. “We tore into each other in the quest of seeking justice for these girls and protecting women in future.” 224 people attending the Gender Forum on SGBV in Kenya Despite this triumph, there have been consistent failures by law enforcement.Justice for Liz campaign revealed the lack of initiative by police in Busia to arrest six boys who had violently gang-raped a 16 year old girl. In fact, the perpetrators walked free while the girl languished in hospital from debilitating injuries. The ineptitude led to a massive outcry by advocacy groups from within the country and abroad. Making reference to a recent statement issued by the Inspector General of the police, Ms. Njeri Rugene, a Parliamentary Editor at the Nation Media Group who first exposed the story is perterbed that, “Instead of the police focusing on investigations, they went into what seems to be a cover up strategy from the top echelons of the institution. Justice has been denied to the family which has been uprooted from their home due to insecurity and stigmatization from the community.” A table discusses the norms and values that perpetuate or curb GBV Over 1.3 million people worldwide signed a petition demanding for justice. In February, the director of public prosecution announced that he would be moving to court to prosecute the suspects and a commission would investigate reports of negligence by the police who handled the case.

Hesitation in reporting SGBV incidences

In their defense, the police through media reports have insisted that there was delay in reporting the case claiming it was an afterthought after the survivor experienced increased complications following the incident. The forum learned that there were claims that arbitration had been made between the family and the perpetrators, a fact that is questionable in criminal law. These are among challenges hampering justice of SGBV. The Deputy Executive Director and Programme manager of COVAW Ms. Lydia Muthiani says that the first point of referral makes or breaks the case. The victim hesitantly approaches family members because the society still harbours a negative mindset towards the vice and may fail to proceed to the next point. If the matter proceeds to the second stage, which is in seeking service provision from the police and healthcare providers, challenges arise in the handling of the evidence. Oftentimes it is tampered with and hence cannot hold in the court of law. “We are asking that whatever evidence is available should be tested in the courts of law. There are also options for civil action.” Wanja speaks during plenary discussions Collecting data from national and county level The gravity of the situation is heightened by lack of instruments for data collection. This is the situation facing the National Gender Equality Commission (NGEC), a Constitutional office established in 2011 with a mandate to oversee, coordinate, research and advise on actions to reduce gender inequalities and discrimination on any grounds as listed in the Constitution. Lack of credible holistic data handicaps all actors from analyzing the situation and assessing cost implications thus retarding progress. The commission aims to remedy this by embarking on a process of gathering data in order to advice government and other actors on policy review and gaps in implementation. Summarising the world cafe discussions during plenary According to Ms. Wangu Kanja, founder of Wangu Kanja Foundation, an organization that champions against SGBV, lack of clear data analysis is fueling the crimes. “Every day we have new cases experienced but the magnitude is not known and hence not well addressed.” She opined that because of this, the issues of men and boys, who also fall victim to sexual and gender based violence, are not well articulated or responded to. The statistics of cases of SGBV are unacceptable A response from the World Café session during plenary yielded some insightful responses from the participants. Patriarchal norms are a major factor which continually perpetuates sexual violence, especially against women in Kenya. Traditional dowry payment in most Kenyan communities objectifies women thus most men treat their wives as a commodity rather than as a human being who has got rights and freedoms. There is therefore need to address these seemingly harmless sexual allusions by tackling them at the subtle level before it becomes a sexual and gender based violence issue. Trivializing sexual and gender based violence by the police is also an obstacle in trying to access justice by majority of the victims. Consequently, as Phillip Otieno pointed out, there is need to continually build capacity of the police through gender sensitization to enable them effectively respond to cases of gender violence.

Keeping to commitments

Prof. Rose Odhiambo, CEO of the National Gender and Equality Commission informed the forum, “We are in the process of coming up with the cost implications of managing SGBV," which, according to Mr. Wafula of the Liverpool VCT is tremendous, possibly surpassing the cost of managing malaria and road accidents combined! The country is also in the process of monitoring progress on achievement of objectives of key conventions such as Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and others. This means that Kenya is committed to reforms in regards to SGBV. The commission has been convening all stakeholders involved in the fight against S/GBV. Prof. Odhiambo however lays emphasis on the need for personal involvement in fighting S/GBV. Download here the full Report on the Gender Forum: Sexual and Gender Based Violence. Read More:

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ActionAid Launches the Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Programme

Category : News

Nairobi, Kenya, ActionAid International Kenya (AAIK) launched the Ending Violence against Women and Girls in urban places programme. The programme which is funded by DFID is centered on ending all forms of violence and discrimination against girls and women and making cities safer places for all. It will benefit close to 20,000 women and girls in Bangladesh, Kenya, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe. Launching the Programme, Lisa Phillips, Head of DFID in Kenya called for a multisectoral approach to end violence against women and girls. “ We will only reverse the grim statistics if we proactively work together with the government through the National Gender Equality Commission, Anti- FGM Board and other state agencies, donors and NGOs like ActionAid to create awareness, put in proper legislation and follow through to full implementation”. She observed. Donatella Fregonese , the Global Programme Lead, pointed to the urgent need to address widespread violence against women and girls in cities and urban spaces across the globe. A pilot project by AAIK revealed that the constant threat of sexual violence and lack of police presence in informal settlements mean that many women are too scared to leave their homes to use communal sanitation facilities. Hon. Linah Kilimo from the Anti FGM board called upon participants to work together to eliminate the practice of FGM. She retaliated the commitment of the Anti-FGM board to eliminate FGM in this generation. Commissioner Florence Nyokabi from the National Gender Equality Commission emphasized the need to operationalize the no 2/3rd one gender rule as enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Kenya. Speaking at the launch, Bijay Kumar, Executive Director, AAIK emphasized ActionAid’s commitment to unapologetically take sides with women living in poverty and exclusion. “We mustprioritize security for women and girls in order to guarantee them access to better healthcare, education and livelihood opportunities, this will only be achievable through training, awareness raising and effective policy legislation and its effective implementation”. He noted. The launch was attended by donors (DFID, DANIDA, DFAT), corporate partners (Ericsson Kenya and Safaricom Foundation), The National Gender Equality Commission, Anti FGM board, UN agencies (UNFPA, UN Women), Civil society groups (WEL,CRAWN, WANGU KANJA FOUNDATION, SAUTI YA WANAWAKE) and ActionAid colleagues involved in this project from across the four countries. Read More:

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Only Rape Survivors (Like Me) Can Truly Understand What Other Victims Have Gone Through

Category : Justice , My Story

In 2002, I was car-jacked and raped. Traumatized and shaking, I remembered the advice of a family friend when I was growing up -- that if I was ever raped, I should report it straight away. But the police turned me away. They didn't want to know. I attended counseling, but I couldn't cope with life so I turned to coping mechanisms in a bid to numb the pain. I used alcohol and casual sex in failed attempts to make me feel loved and desired, rather than brutalized and worthless in the eyes of men. The rape, and the lack of help or channels to talk about it in conservative Kenyan society, nearly destroyed me. Then I began to wonder. It occurred to me that if I, as a middle-class woman, couldn't get the help I needed, then how much worse must it be for poor, isolated or uneducated Kenyan women who have experienced this type of gender-based violence? So in 2005 I set up the Wangu Kanja Foundation, because I couldn't stand the thought of so many thousands of Kenyan women not even knowing they had the right to stand up for themselves. I wanted to use my experience to inform and influence the kind of mechanisms and services we need in this country. Only survivors of that experience can truly understand what other victims have gone through. Since then, we've helped thousands of women. Some have children born as the result of rape. When we first see them, they can't love their child because of their ordeal. We provide counseling one to one, in groups of survivors, and as a family. I'm so happy to see now that many of those women are developing a loving bond with their children, powerfully overcoming their experience. We are building a network of survivors and we are training some of those women to pass on those lessons. And we are teaching women both to understand what laws are there to help them gain justice, how to access them and how to generate their own income from existing and simple skills, such as making peanut butter and weaving baskets. That way, women from poorer backgrounds are not reliant on a man for their livelihood while they are also dealing with their trauma. In the end, I opted not to pursue my case legally because of the stigma and discrimination that comes with sexual violence and the shame that comes with it. I understand how a person feels when they have been raped -- the fear, rejection, shame and condemnation, so I know how important it is that survivors get comprehensive care and support. I spent years entangled in a complex fight to get my case recorded and properly addressed so I know how important it is that survivors have help through that. My foundation has set up a helpline that women can call to report a rape. We then connect the woman to the healthcare workers and paralegals in their area who can accompany them to medical examinations and help submit the medical report (Post Rape Care form) to the police, which is needed to take the perpetrator to court. Our legal advisors help follow the case through. We are going to scale this up, in partnership with Safaricom, one of Kenya's biggest mobile-network providers, to include a text service that women can use to alert us of an attack. The reporting of sexual gender-based violence in Kenya is still very low. For example, in 2014 the International Center for Transitional Justice reported very high incidences of rape and sexual violence in the 2007-2008 post-election violence that swept across Kenya. The worst cases happened in Nairobi's Kibera and Mathare slums, where hundreds of women suffered horrific violence, yet only 31 survivors were willing to talk about the experience with the official Commission set up to hear evidence. The Commission heard these women feared retaliation, feared the police and didn't believe anything would be done. So using mobile technology provides a friendly, discreet and dignified way forward. Our successes show what can be done with even a crumb of effort and funding. But we're still small, so our foundation has focused on Nairobi. But when Kenya signs up to the new Sustainable Development Goals in September, Goal 5 -- the requirement to end all violence against women and girls -- our example must be given due prominence. Most Kenyans have a mobile phone, so our reporting service could easily go national and encourage women, whether rich or poor, rural or urban, to report an attack immediately. Counseling is an expensive business, but we have worked with survivors whose healing process was helped by their decision to train up and work with us. They are empowered to help others and spread the knowledge about the means to get oneself redress. I call not only on Kenya to use these means to respond to Sustainable Development Goal 5, but equally, to all Kenyan women to act, to speak up and learn their rights -- not their place -- and to be fearless. Wangu Kanja will speak about her work and experiences in London on September 10 at ActionAid's 'Celebrating Fearless Women.' To find out more about the Fearlesscampaign, go to Follow Wangu Kanja on Twitter at @KanjaWangu. This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations'Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals(2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 5. To find out what you can do, visit here and here.

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5 inspiring women who’ll show you anything’s possible

Category : Women Empowerment

Violence against women is a shocking fact of life for one woman in three globally. It not only affects women physically and psychologically, but it holds back entire communities and their development. Bringing down violence isn't easy, but fearless women all over the world are standing up and speaking out. Let these five amazing women inspire you with their stories of fearlessness and stand with them by taking action now.
Wangu Kanja, 40, founder of the Wangu Kanja Foundation in Kenya
Wangu Kanja, 40, founder of the Wangu Kanja Foundation in Kenya

Wangu, 40, helping survivors turn their anger into courage

I met Wangu earlier this week and she blew my mind. Hidden behind her soft voice you can hear the great pain she has overcome and turned into strength. Wangu was car-jacked and sexually assaulted in 2002. Not only was she raped and robbed, but the police would not take her seriously when she went to report the assault. Like many people facing this type of violence in Kenya, she started using alcohol and sex to ease her pain. After months of counselling, Wangu decided to stand up and use her experience to help other women. So, in 2005 she founded The Wangu Kanja Foundation, a partner of ActionAid, which helps survivors of sexual violence access medical, psychological and legal support. “I wanted to use my experience to inform and create the services we need in Kenya to support the survivors of sexual violence. Only survivors of such an experience can really understand what women who have suffered sexual violence have gone through,” she says.

Azza, 49, human rights lawyer in Egypt

Azza has been at the forefront of the fight for human rights for the women of Egypt for many years, and is the Chair of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance. After witnessing the killing of an activist by police during a peaceful protest in Cairo, Azza reported the crime and got charged under the repressive 'Protest Law'. It was the state’s chance to be rid of a well-argued and, scandalously, female critic. Azza SolimanAzza Soliman, 49, lawyer and human rights defender from Egypt We've been fighting with Azza for months and we'll keep standing with her until those ridiculous charges are dropped. After a global outcry in May, which included more than 20,000 ActionAid supporters petitioning the UK Foreign Secretary, the judge threw the case out of court, but the verdict was appealed so she is still facing five years in prison. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now following her case and pushing Egyptian authorities to drop the charges. Her next court hearing is on 26 September and the whole world is watching. Follow us on Facebook to find out about next steps. Azza says: “Tackling violence against women is key to development and those women in Egypt who showed leadership and were in the frontlines of the revolution in 2011 and who have worked tirelessly to improve women’s issues since then should be seen as heroes – not a threat. Using violence against them is more a sign of weakness than strength.”

Carla, 15, inspiring young women in Brazil

Carla is a youth leader who helps other girls recover from sexual exploitation and be aware of their rights. The part of Brazil that she's from, Suape, is a busy industrial hub where sexual exploitation of girls as young as 12 is common. Teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and school drop-out rates are on the rise. Carla, 15, youth leader from BrazilCarla, 15, youth leader from Brazil ActionAid supports local organisations to help girls to understand their potential and say no to sexual exploitation. “At the project we have discussions and seminars, which help us to spread our knowledge throughout our community. This helps us to help other girls our age,” she says.

Tiwonge, 40, beaten but not beaten

We met Tiwonge in the hill country of northern Malawi. The tobacco harvest had just been completed - a time of conflict between the sexes as women tend the crop, and men decide how to spend the proceeds. Tiwonge, 40, farmer and women's rights activist from MalawiTiwonge, 40, farmer and women's rights activist from Malawi Tiwonge was often beaten by her husband. As she left the house to address a group of women in 2006, her husband once again beat her. “I said enough is enough. I could not take it any longer.” At that moment something changed and she found the courage to stand up to years of abuse. Now divorced and raising her four daughters, Tiwonge has joined other women to push for an end to violence and leads a local Women’s Forum, a partner of ActionAid Malawi challenging violence and discrimination. “As a single parent, I want my children’s rights to be realised and I have a big role to ensure that,” she says.

Manu, 28, member of the COMBAT squads in Ghana

COMBAT (Community Based Anti-violence Team) groups are groups of volunteers who work together to tackle violence against women in villages. ActionAid trains COMBAT squads on human rights, social welfare, and how to help survivors of domestic violence, and supports them regularly with further training and supplies. Manu, Combat squadsManu, 28, COMBAT squads member in Ghana Manu has been a member of the COMBAT squad in her village for 6 years, and she has 6-year-old daughter. “It’s important for COMBAT to be here,” Manu explains. “Before the way women and children were being treated was very bad. They would threaten children with sticks, and widows would lose all their property, everything. Now things are much better; there is much less violence towards children and widows are now keeping their property.” You can stand with fearless women by joining our #fearless campaign now.

Ask David Cameron to act on violence against women

Photos: Georgina Goodwin/ActionAid, Nana Kofi Acquah/ActionAid, Lianne Milton/Panos/ActionAid, Arjen van de Merwe/ ActionAid, Rene Clement. Read More:

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Sexual violence in Kenya: ‘To the police, rape wasn’t a crime’

Category : Justice , News

Wangu Kanja was a victim of sexual violence, she is now using her experience to remove stigma and help survivors access psychological and legal support. In 2002 I was travelling back from work in Nairobi when I was carjacked and raped at gunpoint; I was 27. One man started telling me to undress and I said I can’t do it, until he removed his gun, gave me a bullet and told me to decide whether I want to live or to die. Those were the only two choices that I had. After the incident I went to report what happened to the police, but I was not taken seriously. Sexual violence is justified and condoned in Kenya most of the time. Our culture does not allow people to discuss sexual issues openly, and it’s difficult for many people to handle sexual violence in an appropriate way. The police reported the incident not as a rape, but as robbery with violence. They wouldn’t speak of the rape because to them it wasn’t a crime. But it’s a huge problem in Kenya. A 2010 national survey (pdf) suggested that 32% of girls experienced sexual violence before becoming adults. I couldn’t address what had happened to me because I did not have access to psychological support, and the stigma is so huge that people don’t know how to react. That’s why many people decide to shut down and deal with it the best way they know how. I fell into depression for two years, using alcohol as a coping mechanism. It has taken me over 10 years to heal. I underwent counselling, and in 2005 I set up the Wangu Kanja Foundation so I could use my experience to help women, girls and men who have gone through sexual violence to access comprehensive care and support including medical, psychological and legal services. We create a safe space for women and give them that platform where they know they can talk about their experiences and nobody is going to judge them. I am trying to make violence against women a social issue in Kenya, to make people understand that it impacts everyone: if a woman or girl in your life is affected then it means you are affected directly, or indirectly.
At the foundation, woman learn new skills including making peanut butter to encourage them to be financially independent. Photograph: Georgina Goodwin/Action Aid

At the foundation, woman learn new skills including making peanut butter to encourage them to be financially independent. Photograph: Georgina Goodwin/Action Aid

People are now opening up by discussing sexual issues – not as many as we would want, but we have started the conversation. Kenya is very patriarchal so it is important to build the capacity of women to become financially independent in order to reduce their vulnerability. At the foundation we make peanut butter, baskets, ornaments, and jewellery. With these resources, women can use their skills to protect themselves: you do not need to stay in an abusive relationship because you’re not able to look after yourself. But ultimately, many women still die in silence because this country doesn’t offer a safe environment to speak about their ordeal. Everyone looks at me as someone who has gone through a rape ordeal and has healed, but they assume I got there by a miracle. They don’t know that it was a process. So I help them understand that you can recover, but doing so is a conscious decision you have to make. Regardless of what you’ve gone through, your life can change and you don’t need to look at yourself through the lenses of other people. You need to affirm yourself as an individual instead of waiting for others to affirm you. Wangu Kanja is founder and executive director of the Wangu Kanja Foundation. In September she spoke in London at Action Aid’s Celebrating Fearless Womenconference. As told to Naomi Larsson. Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow@GuardianGDP on Twitter.

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Putting back life’s broken pieces: loving my baby after rape

Category : My Story

Women’s bodies were turned into battlefields in the 2007-08 post-election violence. Under the Journalists for Justice Programme, Joyce Wangui documents six women’s experiences, struggles and how they are coping seven years later. Many are the times Chichi has wished her seven-year-old daughter dead. She has tried strangling her, suffocating her, denying her food for days, and has once beaten her to within an inch of her life. “If I had my way, I would have killed this baby the moment I delivered it.” Chichi’s daughter has just returned from a nearby school to their tiny room in Mashimoni area of Nairobi’s sprawling Mathare slum. She is barefoot, and her uniform is threadbare, with patches concealing the larger tears. Her eyes are sunken, her body frail — and Chichi quickly explains that feeding her daughter is a huge challenge. Chichi has another mouth to feed now — her two-year-old son, whom she bore with the man she shares the house with and fondly refers to as “my husband”. Even though Chichi lives in abject poverty, with almost nothing to offer her children, it is not difficult to discern the absence of warmth between mother and daughter. Chichi asks her daughter to fetch water and fill in several containers before washing her school uniform. It is cold outside and the little girl has no warm clothing but she knows better than to disobey her mother. “I shout at her a lot. I just can’t bring myself to talk to her quietly. I call her names,” Chichi confesses, adding that she finds herself beating her severely for petty mistakes like spilling tea. Once, she recalls, she beat her daughter so seriously that were it not for the neighbours, she could have killed her. “I once beat her so badly until she bled. My neighbours threatened to report me to the police: that is when the beatings stopped for some time.” In Mashimoni, where the structures are built very close to each other, there is no privacy and on any given day, the neighbours will hear what is going on next door. “I was in so much pain from the suffering that I was going through that I tried to suffocate Toto in her sleep. My husband came in at the right time,” Chichi says drily. Her daughter is a daily reminder of what Chichi has endured. “When the child asks for something I can’t offer, I feel bad because I am reminded of who she is,” says Chichi. *** Chichi remembers a group of men forcing her to sniff a substance before losing her senses. When she came to, she was in unfamiliar surroundings in a woman’s house, bleeding profusely. Her thighs were bathed in blood and the bump at the back of her head was still bleeding. The Good Samaritan who had picked her up from the dump and taken her and cleaned her up and gave her medication. She had, by her act of kindness, unwittingly destroyed all the evidence of the crimes that had been committed against Chichi. Mathare was swimming in blood, houses were on fire and bodies were floating in the nearby Mathare River, not far from where Chichi had found refuge. “People were in a state of confusion. No one really cared,” she says. The dispute over the 2007 presidential election result had degenerated into an ethnic brawl pitting the Kikuyu against the Luo, two communities living cheek-by-jowl in the tension of slum scarcities. Youth from the two communities fought bitterly, but the worst was to follow when police were dispatched to the area. She says security agents turned the place into a den of death. Police seemed to compete with ordinary citizens in committing acts of violence, rape, murder and looting. Chichi, then a 15-year-old student at Kisumu Girls School, was caught in the maelstrom of the violence that erupted. She had visited Nairobi for the Christmas holiday, and wistfully wonders how her life would have turned out if she had remained in Kisumu during the school holiday. Chichi was visiting her aunt in Kariobangi in Nairobi. On the fateful day, she left her aunt’s house to visit her friend in the Mathare slums. She never made it back. Strolling back to her aunt’s house at around 5.30 pm, at the bridge between Riverside and Kariobangi South, known locally as a “black spot” for crime, she heard gunshots but could not tell where they were coming from. Unknown to her, violence had already erupted in the slum areas but it had not reached Kariobangi. “One bullet flew so close to my ear but thankfully it did not touch me.” She panicked and started running as the sound of gunshots rose. She ran into a gang of 15 youngsters wielding sharpened weapons. Some had guns. They accosted her but she kept running. The young men tried to greet her but she was too shocked to respond. “One of the men hit my head so hard with a sharp object that I fell on the ground.” Then the first man began to rape her, followed by others. Chichi began to lose consciousness but before her world became dark, she heard her attackers say that they would teach her a lesson for her arrogance. “I did not even vote because I was not of age. I thought people were being punished for voting,” Chichi says, remembering the violence of December 31, 2007. Her aunt’s house was burnt to ashes forcing her to flee to her rural home. Chichi would not be able to know what had happened to her until months later. Although she was not a direct victim of police brutality, she faults the force for perpetrating much of the violence and not protecting vulnerable citizens like her. “If police were doing their job, I would not have been raped.” Just when she thought matters could not get any worse, her pregnancy test at a health centre in Mathare produced positive results. It dawned on her that she was carrying a crisis pregnancy. “My world just collapsed. They had left me with a permanent reminder of what they had done.” What would she tell her fellow students at Kisumu Girls High School? What would she tell her peers at home? Would they believe her? Her greatest worry was how to break the terrible news to her cousin, who had been paying for her education after her parents died. “She demanded that I get an abortion or she would stop paying my fees.” But Chichi was afraid. She had heard horrible stories of women who procured abortions. She feared it could kill her. Her cousin sent her away and Chichi found herself back in the bowels of Mathare. She would soon give birth here, against all odds of slum life. With the benefit of hindsight, Chichi feels that she should have terminated the pregnancy, but there was no opportunity for that. “I was forced to give birth and consequently take care of that child’s every needs to date.” She is among the many women who were denied abortion by the state policy because it is illegal in Kenya. Jacqueline Mutere, founder of Grace Agenda, advocates access to safe abortions in rape pregnancies. A survivor of rape and pregnancy herself, Mutere says the current laws should be changed to allow for the termination of rape pregnancies. “It should form part of the comprehensive post-rape care.” At the time of delivery, Chichi’s demons reawakened. Birth can reawaken the trauma of rape. Researchers from the Arctic University of Norway have found that the trauma of rape is often relived when the survivor is on her back and undressed. She is surrounded by strangers who are “having their way” with her body in a manner reminiscent of the assault. The research also shows that women who have been abused are more vulnerable because even though their experiences have been suppressed, they come forth during the birth. Chichi recalls her delivery being unbearable. She endured a prolonged labour and was finally delivered through Caesarian section. Up till now, she does not know who paid her medical bills. Coping with the effects of sexual assault and rape can be overwhelming. Some survivors lean onto substance abuse to help them to cope with overwhelming feelings. Psychologists say because a survivor’s control and sense of safety have been taken away by the perpetrator, engaging in self-injuring behaviour can also bring a temporary sense of control over a person’s environment and serve as a release for tension. Living in an environment where rape, murder and other serious crimes are common, Chichi found herself immersed in habits that would enable her to cope with her trauma. Out of school and thrust into motherhood, Chichi found life had become unbearable for her and got into prostitution in 2010. It was not something she had ever considered, given her strict upbringing. “Sometimes I did it for money and food; at other times I did it to gain acceptance from men,” she adds. But the terrain was rough. “Such a job requires girls who are street smart. I was not.” Wangu Kanja of the Wangu Kanja Foundation, another rape survivor who turned to similar coping mechanisms to numb her pain and trauma, writes in an article: “I used alcohol and casual sex in failed attempts to make me feel loved and desired, rather than brutalised and worthless in the eyes of men.” The night work took a heavy toll on Chichi’s daughter, who would often be left alone to fend for herself. “I used to leave her alone in the house. She became so weak that at some point she got anaemia. She almost died,” Chichi recalls. The house she lived in after giving birth to her daughter was burnt in renewed chaos in Mathare. “All my documents, including my birth certificate and identity card, were destroyed in the fire.” Because she is very eloquent, many organisations would like to hire her but she lacks the requisite documentation. She cannot trace the identity cards of her dead parents, which would enable her to obtain her own. She finds the process of getting replacement documents bureaucratic and requiring transport expenses to public offices. She has attended numerous counselling sessions courtesy of Grace Agenda, an organisation that counsels and supports women who have given birth to rape babies. “We teach women how to love their babies and the need for forgiveness. We tell them that it is not the baby’s fault,” says Jacqueline Mutere, Grace Agenda’s founder. Mutere is a survivor of the post-election sexual violence and gave birth to a baby as a result of rape. She says when she meets women survivors; many don’t love their children because of the tribulations they have undergone. “We provide them with holistic psycho-social support — first to accept whatever they endured and, secondly, to love their children.” Many women in the programme, including Chichi, are gradually developing a bond with their children and overcoming their painful experiences. Chichi feels bad when her daughter compares herself with other children. “One day, she told me that a neighbour’s child had brand new clothes bought for her because the mother loves her. Then she asked me, ‘Mum, do you love me?” At the beginning of the school year, Chichi’s daughter stayed home because her mother didn’t have Sh4,000 for the term’s fees. “For the past one month, she has gone to school barefoot.” Chichi herself still misses education and remembers her school days with nostalgia. She makes up for what she misses by being an avid reader of books, magazines, journals and other educative material. “I am invited to so many high level forums because I am eloquent and I can articulate issues. I am well read. I know about human rights and women rights.” The food shelf in Chichi’s house is empty, save for the insects that scurry in their desperate search for leftovers. “We don’t buy food here. We don’t have the money to.” Chichi has done menial jobs on construction sites, which have calloused her hands. “The work is strenuous. It destroyed my palms. They swell a lot.” Sometimes she commutes to Eastleigh to wash clothes for wealthier households. Her thumb is still bleeding from the last laundry job. *** When the world turned its back on Chichi, one man saw the gem in her. Despite the suspicion that still lingers between their ethnic communities and the pain she still bears, Chichi, a Luo, and Peter, a Kikuyu, have decided to make a life together. Peter fell in love with Chichi, knowing only too well what he was getting himself into. He had heard about her rape, her life in prostitution and other stories that did not enhance her image. “People in this neighbourhood said a lot of things about her, but I decided to stay with her and learn those things by myself,” Peter says. He embraced Chichi with open arms because he realised that she needed help; that he needed to shield her from the cruelties of Mathare. But he also had to prepare himself psychologically to embrace Chichi and her tantrums. “Sometimes she is very moody. She can wake up and break things, but I let it pass because I know she is venting.” Over time, Peter’s family has accepted Chichi because of his unwavering support. Initially, they had reservations because of the social stigma attached to rape, but he has convinced them and today, they take her as family. “His family is very supportive. His mother has helped me to cope as a woman.” Peter takes Chichi for therapy. He accompanies her to the many sessions she is often invited to. “He is my number one pillar,” she says. Although not formally employed, Peter relies on menial jobs, which are not easy to come by because there are too many people in the slums scrambling for the few available. “Sometimes I come home late because I can’t stand to see my family sleeping on empty stomachs. I come home when they are sleeping.” Hunger is never too far away from their house, but they make do with whatever opportunities life throws their way. Once in a while, Peter gets weekly contracts at the National Youth Service projects that have been initiated in the slums. He takes me to a farm where the residents grow sukuma wiki (kale) for sale to boost family incomes. Peter, a youth leader in Mathare, has helped Chichi to embrace the daughter she conceived through rape and implores young boys and men to respect women and not condone violence. Living with a survivor of rape has taught him a lot. He also advises men whose spouses have been sexually violated: “Don’t listen to people. Listen to the person who has been raped. Hear her story, understand her. Love her.” Chichi says she is not a victim but a survivor. That realisation has enabled her to pick up the broken pieces of her life. She stopped feeling sorry for herself over what happened. “Whenever I am invited to forums where others survivors of rape are in attendance, I tell them to erase the word victim from their mind, because they survived the ordeal.” Whatever happened to her, though horrendous, has broadened her perspective on life. One of the healing processes for rape survivors, according to psychologists, is to move from being a victim to become a survivor in an effort to regain control over one’s life. It is typically at this stage for a woman to consider returning to work or changing careers, considering long-term therapy, self-defence courses and strategising about having more contact with family. Chichi now talks about human rights with great conviction and depth. “Now I know what it really means to be sexually violated and having no one to support you.” She urges women to be their “sisters’ keepers”. She shelters women in her tiny room; those whose lives have been wrecked; women who have been sexually violated; teenage girls who have been raped and put in the family way. But she also surrounds herself with women with great minds, so that she can learn the ropes of survival. She admits that sometimes she doesn’t like to be in the company of fellow survivors because all they do is cry. “A blind man cannot lead the other. So sometimes I get out of their cocoon and mingle with other people.” She has joined several women’s groups, among them the Young Women Empowerment Group, which brings together clusters for investment and revolving funds, among other ventures. They are building a shelter in the slum area to rescue women and girls who have survived sexual and gender-based violence. Chichi laments that the government has deliberately turned a blind eye on the sexual violence survivors of the post-election period. Never one to shy away from confronting issues that she feels are relegated, Chichi recalls how the police treated her with derision when, days after her gang rape, she went to report her case. “I didn’t have the luxury of counselling myself, but I have perfected it as an art.” Chichi has attended many forums for survivors of the post-election violence, growing naturally into a mentorship role. Her mastery of the English language and self confidence see her often holding fort at forums on critical issues. “I have been to so many forums where I confront members of the police force without fear. I still believe that had the police been vigilant, these rapes could not have happened to us.” Chichi understands that prosecution of post-election sexual offenders may never happen because a lot of time has elapsed and evidence is missing, but she knows that restorative justice is an important step the government should prioritise. No amount of money can pay for the injuries inflicted on Chichi’s mind, body and soul — not even the Sh10 billion that the President announced to set up the restorative justice fund. “It was a violation of my body, who can pay me for that? Nobody.” Still, she needs the burden of raising her daughter and providing for her needs eased from her. She needs to give her a good life. The lone toilet in the area is almost a kilometre away and comes with a bathroom for hire. On this night, she tells me that one has to use the facility early because it gets risky at night. The narrow paths too are not passable. Living in an area where violence such as rape is common place has also made her a little paranoid. She is afraid of men, particularly those who come knocking looking for her husband. “When my daughter is alone in the house, I get afraid that a man might sexually violate her. I imagine how my kid would feel.” She has a warning for anyone who would think of harming her daughter. “That is the day we will both end up in Lang’ata; him at the cemetery and me at the prison.” - See more at: