Addressing cultural practices that are harmful to Women and Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive health (2018-2019)

Contributor: Maurine Khabuchi, Program Associate

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This project is being implemented by COVAW, with support from Amplify Change. This is an extension of the previous project which ran from 2016 to 2017. The objectives of the original project had been met and these were lessons learnt:

1. Gender Based Violence (GBV) has been condoned and accepted as a social cultural norm within the society. GBV in all its form including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been accepted and normalized despite being criminal. This was particularly picked from some of the myths and misconceptions around GBV which actually tend to blame the victim rather than holding the perpetrator responsible, justifying these violations, as well as impeding effective prevention and response. This was progressively deconstructed through regular interaction with the community and engaging them on these issues to change their mind set and attitude.

2. Male involvement is vital to make projects all-inclusive as well as to avoid backlash. It therefore adds value to involve men in addressing cultural practices. Notably, the assumption that men are always the perpetrators of violence negatively affects or makes it difficult for them to see their potential to address GBV. Deliberate efforts were made to include men in the project. Some of the champions recruited were male. COVAW is also cognisant of the cultural practices that are upheld by the Maasai community and duly respected the informal governance structures that exist in the community e.g. the Maasai council of elders. They are the custodians of culture and if they are not actively engaged in the transformation process, the desired change may not be observed. As such, COVAW continuously engaged the Maasai culture in dialogue sessions where negative social norms that are harmful to women and girls SRH were discussed and positive alternative norms were identified.

3. How we communicate sensitive topics to the audience affects the outcome we get. Sharing of personal experiences with other community members in open discussions and not being judged created a sense of confidence in the people. This allowed them to control the communication process and identify, home grown solutions through collective discussion. COVAW collaborated with local resource people e.g. chiefs, community activists and the Maasai council of elders who led the dialogue in the community. These people are not viewed to ‘belong’ and hence their message is received positively. The use of the SASA! community mobilisation tool, which is a benefits based approach, was well received by the community. The approach encourages the community to identify challenges facing them and also identify solutions they themselves can come up with.

The second part of the project is set to run from 1st June 2018 to 31st May 2019. The objective is to strengthen local capacity to prevent harmful cultural practices of GBV, FGM and resulting early marriage, unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortion. Mutli-tiered advocacy is being undertaken through local community activism conducted by community activists, opinion, faith & traditional leaders; at county level by Gender & SRH officers & policy makers to support law and policy implementation; at National level, through law & policy makers, the anti-FGM Board, health ministry to advocate for laws, policies & guidelines that enhance access to SRH services with focus on unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortion, implementation of the Anti-FGM law and enactment of gender friendly laws and policies.

Progress has been observed in the community. Community members are now having discussions on FGM, early marriage and unsafe abortion openly. Having such discussions had been considered a taboo for a long time in the Maasai community.

The project seeks to train and support community activists on phase 3 of SASA community engagement methods – offers support to the Community Activists (CAs), as well as the CAs supporting each other in leading community conversations on the cultural practices of GBV, FGM and associated early marriage, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions that affect women and girls.

COVAW also works on the mobilization and organisation of community and county mechanisms that prevent & respond to such practices, ultimately creating action against social & gender norms & cultural practices that violate SRH of women/girls. The county now has newly elected legislatures, this is an opportunity for COVAW to bring GBV and access to comprehensive abortion care to the attention of the newly elected leaders and lobby for their support in prioritisation of comprehensive abortion care during budget allocations at the County level.

The project has a primary priority theme of Gender-Based Violence and a secondary priority theme of challenging stigma, discrimination, attitudes and laws on SRH of women and girls. The project targets 100,000 people from indigenous groups in Narok, aged 24 – 60 years, both male and female. The Key target will be 3000 females from the group.

Among the Maasai people, the drivers of GBV and its harmful effects are the peoples’ cultural beliefs, practices and norms that exclude women from decision making. By targeting the community members using the long term critical questioning community conversation approach of SASA!; change will take place in people’s minds (in their way of thinking) and ultimately their way of acting and living. The conversations are led by local CAs (respectable community members) leading as change agents. This ensure that the community members are comfortable during the discussions and draw up a perception that SRH is a ‘foreign’ concept. The core of the project is including local community members to build sustainability into the project.