• The Right to remain uncut

    Author: Wairimu Munyinyi Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    The Right to Remain Uncut “Before my parents, before my family and before my village-I declare my right to remain uncut. To keep my body whole and free from tetanus infection and HIV. Free from harm, violence and pain so that girls like me across the world can remain in school. Be married when I want and be part of a new generation-That is born uncut and free to live unharmed.” Distinguished guests, colleagues and friends, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on a subject close to my heart.That was a chant from pre-teen girls in Senegal as 7000 communities swore to abandon the practice with the kind assistance of London Based Orchid Project-working together to end FGM Is the elimination of FGM possible in this decade? Female genital Mutilation/cutting is a practice that is so often shrouded in secrecy and yet we are here today breaking the silence and this cycle of violence against women and girls. I stand before you to tell two sides of my story about this harmful practice and the journey toward its elimination in because I believe it is possible in this decade. Allow me to bring you into the picture concerning the classification.The World Health Organization gives us the following typology: – FGM Type 1 to 4 WHO All done without anaesthesia with no medical benefit. The practice has devastating consequences and some immediate complications and long term health consequences. I speak from my experience as a witness, as a Kenyan Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Over the years, I have been faced with countless women and girls who are living with the lifelong impact of the cut. These are the lucky ones to be alive today as those who died during the process due to excessive bleeding or severe infection are unable to share their stories.Imagine a lifetime of painful periods, possibility of school drop out in favour of early marriage and therefore painful sex that this girl or woman faces. The double tragedy is that she is twice as likely to die during childbirth due to excessive bleeding or obstructed labour. As if these physical complications are not enough, this woman will experience extreme psychological trauma, depression and flashbacks. I speak from my position as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Coalition on Violence Against Women, COVAW. Our origin 24 years ago (1995) is traced to a workshop by Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), which identified two critical areas that no actor was addressing, which were VAWG and the limited number of women in key leadership positions. COVAW has succeeded in moving the issue of VAWG from the private to the public domain, positioning it as a crime and a human rights violation.This side of my story is different. It’s one of hope, inspiration and change. In Kenya FGM has been illegal since 2006 under the Sexual Offences Act, with the enactment of the Prohibition of FGM Act 2011 Kenya has made progress in accelerating abandonment of FGM. The national prevalence of FGM in Kenya stands at 21% (KDHS 2014) compared to 27% in 2008/9, and 32% in 2003. In certain counties continue the practice which is seen as a rite of passage into womanhood. In spite of the steady decline nationally, the prevalence remains very high amongst some communities such as the Somali at 94%, Samburu 86%, Kisii 84%, Kuria 86% and Maasai at 78%. There are significantly lower levels of knowledge on the adverse effects of FGM as well as low awareness of the ban of FGM in Kenya. What would you describe as “Movement of Change?” Imagine with me motion towards a particular goal or towards many goals. Hopefully, motion with a deliberate intention to realize change or progress from one level to another? Movements caused by a decision that change is imminent and that the change requires action, supported by collective resolve to sustain action until the desired change is realized. Movements therefore you expect to have seasons- highs and lows. Movements win and movements lose. Movements also settle for status quo. They evolve. They can also die prematurely. Typically, movements can be classified under four stages, namely: Emergence,Coalescence, Bureaucratization and Decline. The formation of COVAW was necessary to allow for collective response towards a social problem that thrived on the lack of spaces for women to raise their voices and speak out against violence.There was the need to organize around law and policy development on VAWG and finally a need to start influencing the society to change its perceptions and attitudes specifically towards the rights of women and girls and towards violence in general. This can be referred to as an EMERGENCE PHASE, where members of COVAW broke barriers to stir up debate on violence in non-conventional spaces-in public, in religious spaces, in the media, in homes. What was previously seen as a domestic and personal issue was now being discussed in public and not for the sake of it, not sensationally but with a clear purpose- that sustainable change was overdue.Note that COVAW COALESCENCEd consciously or unconsciously to became part of a broader women’s rights movement locally and globally by challenging the status quo. A clear direction of the desired change was desired in terms of addressing violence against women. How many of you remember when the Maendeleo ya Wanawake was established in Kenya?The answer is 1952- it was a women’s movement that focused on improving the quality of life for women in Kenya and promoting gender equality. It had grassroots membership of women in all districts from across the country. Women were taught basic home management skills, family planning as well as financial management. Their political consciousness was also stirred up and they learnt how to use their collective force to pursue their goals. The influence of Maendeleo ya Wanawake remained huge on the lives of Kenyan women. This brings us to the BUREAUCRATIZATION of this movement and its affiliation to government and the ruling political party in the late 1980s, the movement suffered huge divisions, along political lines. Seen as a vehicle for the then ruling party it had been linked to, a significant number of women felt that its original purpose had been compromised. Most attribute the decline of the women’s movement in Kenya to this era. Moreover, the movement did not strongly challenge the social norms on domestic practices that contributed to violence against women.Members of the movement, individuals and organizations shifted towards programmes and into a near comfort zone. DECLINE.COVAW has however remained engaged in these spaces and has in the last 5 years made particularly strong investments in addressing Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting as a form of GBV. In 2018, COVAW launched a baseline study, with support from the Global Fund for Women to establish the status of the anti-FGM Movement in Kenya.The Survey covered 5 counties of Narok, Nairobi, Samburu, Meru and Kuria. Lessons from the baseline findings can be amplified to conclude that currently, women’s movements are segmented and at different stages of growth. The anti-FGM movement in Kenya is mostly at emergence and coalescence stages- networks are strong in-counties but few share common agenda beyond the regional boundaries. Further, the weakness of movements can be attributed to the strength of programmes. Most movement agendas are supported by programmes that are funded by external partners and often have a time limit.

    Lessons for the elimination of FGM/C: – Embrace the evolution of movements and remain focused on the shared goal of achieving the rights of women, and while at it, accord the youth their rightful place in the anti-FGM movement. This is when I foresee elimination of FGM/C where all affected are involved.

    Thank you for your kind attention.

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  • Empowering Duty Bearers to effectively respond to rights of sexual violence victims in Kisumu County

    Author: Wairimu Munyinyi Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    19 participants representing state and non-state actors met at Pinecone Hotel, Kisumu County for a two-day training workshop between 28th and 29th May, 2019. The workshop aimed at strengthening capacity of the participants to effectively respond to rights of sexual violence victims in Kisumu County. The training workshop also sought to re-enforce the responsiveness and accountability by all actors in the County for Comprehensive Protection, Prevention and Response to End Sexual and Gender Base Violence in the County. The workshop was supported by Open Society Initiative for East Africa (OSIEA) under “Enhancing Multi-Sectoral Response to Sexual Violence in Hot spots in Kenya” project.

    A group discussion of participants who attended the High Level Training of Duty Bearers in Kisumu County.

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  • Vulnerabilities of Sexually Abused Women and Girls with Intellectual Disabilities in Nairobi, Kiambu and Narok Counties of Kenya

    Author: Wairimu Munyinyi Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    May 2019: 12-year-old Esther (not her real name) is special. She has limited capacity to mentally reason, learn or even solve simple problems. Esther is yet to undertake simple and practical everyday skills such as combing her hair. Esther suffers from intellectual disability. But what’s even more sad, is that, at a tender age of just 12 years, Esther is now a mother! No. She did not wish to be one. You see, Esther was allegedly being defiled several times by a 43-year-old man, Kamau (not his real name)! Kamau is Esther’s neighbour. But a bad neighbour! When the incident got known to the public, Kamau was almost lynched by the public through mob justice. He however escaped that when he got rescued by police. Esther’s case was forwarded to the local courts. It is over two years now; the case is still ongoing. Esther is yet to find her justice.

    A lot has changed for worse since Esther was sexually abused! She no longer goes to school. Due to her nature, she has no ability to raise her child. Her humble family has no choice but to take the responsibility of bring up both Esther and her child. Esther’s mother is also not mentally stable! Both Esther and her mother are both victims and survivors of domestic violence. Many times, the community has observed how both of them have suffered from the hands of their abusive father. A father, who needed to be both a provider and a protector to them. Sadly, stories like these of Esther and her mother are many. Only few get to be highlighted and solutions reached.

    COVAW with support from African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) has launched a project to enhance access to Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Victims with Intellectual Disabilities” in Nairobi, Kiambu and Narok Counties in Kenya. The Project seeks to offer psycho social support and offer court representation for victims such as Esther.

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  • Project Launch: Enhancing Access to Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Victims with Intellectual Disabilities

    Author: Wairimu Munyinyi Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    16th April, 2019: In the month of April, 2019, COVAW with support from African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) launched “Enhancing Access to Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Victims with Intellectual Disabilities” project. The two-year project is implemented in Nairobi, Kiambu and Narok Counties. The project seeks to support victims (women and girls) of SGBV with intellectual disabilities by providing court representation, psycho social care to survivors/victims, advocating for an inclusive legal framework, strengthening capacity of criminal justice actors to respond appropriately to SGBV cases on women and girls with intellectual disabilities and enhancing public knowledge and awareness through Community Dialogue Forums (CDFs) on the rights of women and girls with intellectual disabilities at the project implementation sites.

    Nominated Member of Parliament Dhanittah Ghati (Centre and dressed on purple coat) together with other participants during the official launch of the project at Silver Springs Hotel, Nairobi.

    Under the project, COVAW continues to carry out CDFs in Nairobi’s Urban Informal Settlements (Mathare, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Korogocho, Dandora, Huruma, Kariobangi, Kibera, Kawang’ware Slums), Kiambu’s Kiandutu slum, Makongeni, Ruiru, Ruaraka and Gitwamba. In Narok County, the project is implemented in Narok West and Narok South in the following seven project sites: Naroosura, Ololulung’a, Naikara, Sekinani, Aitong, Olmenkenyu and Olkinyei.

    An ongoing Community Dialogue Forum (CDF) in Narok County.

    Apart from sensitizing communities on the rights of women and girls with intellectual disabilities, COVAW is also taking the opportunity to map out SGBV cases in the community of women and girls with intellectual disabilities so as to facilitate their access to Justice. To do this, COVAW works closely with various paralegals spread across project implementation sites.

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  • Lobby- Educate Youth on Sex, Not Lower Consent Age

    Author: Wairimu Munyinyi Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    PRESS Statement 8th April, 2019; 10:00 am:

    The Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW) has opposed the reduction of the age of consent from 18 to 16. It has urged the government to devise strategies to increase understanding of sexual and reproductive health.

    “COVAW calls upon the Kenyan government to develop a comprehensive sexual education curriculum and come up with practical strategies to implement the curriculum in both primary and secondary schools and also in technical and vocational institutions,” it said. Sex education would provide young adults with cognitive, social and interpersonal skills, COVAW said.

    “Sex education would significantly contribute to delaying the initiation of sex, reduce the number of sexual encounters and sexual partners amongst young adolescent girls and boys at puberty stage, and training them to behave responsibly when they eventually engage in sexual activity.” COVAW stated that sex education would be beneficial in various ways.

    “This information is not only about their physiology and their better understanding of the norms that society has set for sexual behaviour, but also the need to acquire the skills necessary to develop healthy relationships and engage in responsible decision-making about sex.”

    With the right information at a tender age, young girls will be less vulnerable to their immediate environment, especially as they interact with various people in the community, it said.

    “It is therefore important for the government to take a lead in giving comprehensive sexual and reproductive education other than contemplating lowering the age consent to 16 years.”

    The proposal to lower the age of consent came from three Court of Appeal judges, who cited the lengthy jail terms imposed on young men convicted of abuse.

    They made the proposal after they reversed a 15-year sentence slapped on a man who had impregnated a 17-year-old girl.

    The extension could be made to persons who are 18 and still pursuing high school education but in no way can it be extended to adults who are not within the high school student purview. Those are instead choosing to prey on our young girls Coalition on Violence against Women COVAW pointed out that young men between the ages of 18 and 21 are being convicted for sexual liaisons with girls below the age of 18.

    “Once the age is reduced, if no other remedies are put in place to reduce the moral decadence, then we will simply have transferred the problem as there will be a rise in the number of boys aged between 16 and 19 who will be jailed for the same offences hence taking us back to the same situation we are in at the moment.”

    COVAW said the only consideration, if any, would be to respond to the rise of Romeo and Juliet cases (child-to-child consensual teenage sex).

    “In this regard, a proposal would be to amend the Sexual Offences Act to put in special measures to protect children who are voluntarily engaging in these relations.”

    COVAW said the Kenyan Constitution should borrow from the Canadian jurisdiction and limit the age difference to two years, both parties to be in school and use no force or coercion.

    “The extension could be made to persons who are 18 and still pursuing high school education but in no way can it be extended to adults who are not within the high school student purview. Those are instead choosing to prey on our young girls.”

    COVAW explained that lowering the age of consent could put girls at risk of early pregnancies and adverse birth outcomes due to the gynaecological immaturity and incomplete pelvic growth.

    It will also force children to drop out of school earlier than they would have and take up roles they are not yet ready for, which could lead to increase in poverty, the lobby said.

    “Allowing a blanket decision to reduce the age without even due consideration to the people who will end up providing for the babies resultant of such unions is a joke.”

    COVAW said it is time to have discussions around the topic of teenage sex.

    “This should, in no way, be interpreted to mean entertaining talks on the age reduction for consent. If anything, the age of sex of sexual consent should be increased.”

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  • FGM TESTS A VIOLATION OF GIRLS’ RIGHTS

    Author: covaw Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    PRESS Statement 8th January, 2019; 2.13pm

    The Coalition on Violence against Women (COVAW) strongly condemns the directive issued by the Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya on 03.01.2019 –’FGM TESTS A MUST, in the Daily Nation Newspaper. The County Commissioner directed the school heads to ensure that girls in both secondary and upper primary schools undergo pregnancy and FGM tests before reopening of schools. According to him, this will better support girls by forming a basis for prosecuting parents who force the girls to undergo FGM as well as ensuring the perpetrators are held accountable.

    COVAW calls for retraction of this directive by the County Commissioner because it is criminal, demeaning and a violation of girls rights to dignity and privacy.

    COVAW is cognisant of the fact that FGM in itself is criminal, a violation of the rights of women and girls and outlawed in Kenya. While acknowledging the concerns, efforts and support of the County Commissioner towards improving girls’ education and ending retrogressive practices in Narok County, COVAW maintains that all related efforts must be within the confines of the law. ‘It is important for public officials to promote remedial measures that are within the law and those that uphold international human rights and principles –anything else would be counter-productive’, Wairimu Munyinyi- Wahome, the Executive Director of COVAW, said.

    Actions against FGM and child pregnancies should first be preventive and in the unfortunate events where girls have been subjected to FGM, the focus should be on the perpetrators of FGM, as a form of violence and not through taking affected girls through the double stigma of being objectified as a means of proof against the act. The proposed interventions by the County Commissioner in Narok are illegal and must be treated as such.

    Contact Details: Wairimu Munyinyi- Wahome, Executive Director, COVAW Tel. Number: 0733-594794, 0722-594794

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  • Judiciary, do more for mentally challenged sexual abuse victims

    Author: covaw Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    Judiciary, do more for mentally challenged sexual abuse victims (Wednesday September 26 2018), Retrieved from https://www.nation.co.ke/oped/opinion/Do-more-for-mentally-challenged-sexual-abuse-victims/440808-4777448-1yresz/index.html

    There is a group of girls and women in Kenya who go through all manner of abuse and stigma with little help. They get violated, abused and stripped of their dignity by the society — including by those close to them.

    There are innumerable cases of women and girls, and boys, with mental disabilities who have been subjected to sexual abuse but cannot access justice due to all manner of obstacles and crazy court rulings.

    Some of these victims of sexual violence have had cases against their attackers taken to court either by relatives or organisations on their behalf but, for some reason, justice has been long in coming.

    DISABILITY

    A key reason that mentally challenged women and girls have had difficulties in getting justice is their disability, the very attribute of which they are attacked in the first place.

    Never mind that we still have outdated laws and policies that are not only insensitive but also derogatory in addressing sexual and gender violence visited on such women and girls.

    Delays in prosecuting such cases have been clear.

    The Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw), which has a programme to help women, girls as well as boys with mental disabilities who fall victim of sexual violence to access justice, singles out a backlog of DNA results at the Government Chemist as one of the reasons for the delays.

    Covaw executive director Wairimu Munyinyi-Wahome cites instances where they have had to take the initiative and prepare witnesses where prosecutors fail to do so, in cases where the organisation holds brief for the victims.

    LAX PROSECUTORS

    They also encounter lax prosecutors who quote outdated particulars of the law regarding sections of the Sexual Offences Act and the Penal Code in sexual violence cases involving women, girls and even men with mental disabilities.

    In Nanyuki, for instance, a woman with mental disabilities was raped by a man said to be a family friend. When the matter went to court, he was charged with “involvement in prostitution with a person with mental disability”. Not rape.

    The court allowed Covaw’s application to amend the charge but, two years later, the 40-year-old woman awaits justice.

    WILLING PARTICIPANT

    In Nyeri, a mentally disabled woman was continually raped for a year.

    The suspect admitted to impregnating her but was acquitted, with the magistrate arguing that the court was unable to tell whether or not she was a willing participant.

    Covaw is seeking a judicial interpretation on whether a person with mental disabilities has the capacity to consent.

    But what kind of men are these who target such women and children? Some even conspire to subvert justice by influencing delays in hearings through lengthy adjournments. Others intimidate the victims, including by threatening them and their families.

    In Kitui, a disturbing case is still pending. It involves the defiling of a 13-year-old girl with a mental disability, reportedly by the head teacher of the special school where she was a pupil. The child has since given birth from this rape but her at-tacker has denied the two charges of defilement and indecent assault.

    ASSAULT IN SCHOOL

    The 2016 case is still active. In court, a number of parents came out to complain to Covaw officials that their handicapped daughters had also been sexually assaulted at the school. They were advised to report the matter to police.

    In Nyeri, a case was filed of a mentally challenged minor who was defiled and impregnated by a neighbour.

    The suspect had attempted to use his connections with an administrator to have the matter hushed up. An arrest warrant was placed on him. Then 16, she has since given birth.

    At the Makadara courts in Nairobi, a case involving rape of a young man with mental disability is still at the hearing stage since 2014. In Nyahururu, another that involves a gang-rape of a 13-year-old has been before court since 2015.

    There are many others in Kiambu, Nyeri, Milimani and Kibera.

    Many cases involving sexual assault against this category of Kenyans are pending in court, yet society seems to either turn a blind eye or simply leave the victims to their own devices.

    Mentally unstable individuals require special attention and care more than the ‘normal’ ones are giving them.

    The Judiciary should vacate the lacklustre attitude they have exhibited for years and do what they ought to for society — protect the most vulnerable. Our courts are, rightly, the last line of defence against injustice. They ought to live up to that.

    Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. nrugene@gmail.com. Twitter: @nrugene

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  • HEARING OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL PETITION FILED ON BEHALF OF SEXUAL GENDER BASED VIOLENCE SURVIVOR OF THE POST ELECTION VIOLENCE AT THE HIGH COURT OF KENYA BEFORE HON. JUSTICE ISAAC LENAOLA ON 22ND JANUARY 2014 AT 9AM

    Author: covaw Category: COVAW in the News , No Comments

    Press Release  Nairobi, 21 January 2014 on Wednesday, 22 January 2014, four civil society organizations and eight individual petitioners begin their trial against the Attorney General and five other senior government officials for their failure to protect victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during the post-election violence of 2007-8, their failure to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, and their failure to provide reparations to the victims. The case is the first constitutional petition of its kind brought by victims of SGBV during the post-election violence, and it will be heard in the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court of Kenya in Nairobi.

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