Women’s Agency and Violence against Women: The Case of the Coalition on Violence Against Women in Kenya

Contributor: Fatuma Ahmed Ali

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ABSTRACT: Violence against women and girls has been acknowledged as a violation of basic human rights and a form of discrimination against women, reflecting the prevalent imbalance of power between women and men. This is because violence against women and girls is a universal phenomenon that is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. Hence, many legal and policy frameworks have identified violence against women as one of the critical areas of concern that requires women’s agency. This paper analyzes the use of women’s agency to curb violence against women and girls in Kenya using the case study of the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW). It specifically examines the problem of violence against women and girls and how women, through organization such as COVAW, are using their agency to prevent and address that violence. The case study of COVAW is used to provide in-depth analysis of how this women’s organization represents women’s agency in addressing violence against women and girls in Kenyan society. It also illustrates that women have the capacity and ability to combat violence in their society.

KEYWORDS: Sexual and gender-based violence, women’s agency, women’s organizations, Coalition on Violence Against Women
(COVAW), Kenya

African Conflict & Peacebuilding Review 7, no. 1 (Spring 2017), 51–65
Copyright © The Trustees of Indiana University • doi: 10.2979/africonfpeacrevi.7.1.04

INTRODUCTION

The magnitude of violence against women and girls, particularly physical, psychological, sexual, and gender-based violence, in Kenya is disturbing and on the rise. Women are often the main victims of violence because of the patriarchal system in Kenya (Kariuki, Chatterjee, and Dejak 2016). Despite the existence of legislation, administrative directives, judicial sanctions, and awareness-raising efforts by a variety of organizations and the government, gender-based violence, including domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking, and harmful practices, such as forced child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is still endemic in Kenya. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) report of 2014, 47% of women between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine reported that they have experienced either physical or sexual violence. Thirty-three percent have experienced physical violence only, 3% have experienced sexual violence only, and 12% have experienced both physical and sexual violence. The percentage of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence increases steadily with age, from 35% among those aged fifteen to nineteen to 54% among those aged forty to forty-nine (KNBS 2014: 302).

Moreover, the Kenya Police Service received 3,596 defilement cases, 913 of rape, 242 of incest, and 124 of sodomy in 2013 (Orlale 2015). Also, the 2013–14 Liverpool Voluntary Counseling and Testing (LVCT) Health report cites 5,143 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) from 131 sites across Kenya. Out of these, the most affected are girls between twelve and seventeen, representing 41% of survivors, followed by women aged eighteen to forty-nine, who make up 32%. Additionally, girls and women living with disabilities have not been spared by perpetrators of GBV. Girls represented 1% of the cases of GBV, while women over fifty accounted for 3%. Shockingly, girls younger than eleven accounted for 24% of GBV survivors in 2013 (Orlale 2015). One of the worst cases of defilement was of a 10-year-old girl who went on to give birth in Kericho County through caesarean section. The girl suffered double tragedy when media contravened the Children’s Act by revealing her name, school of attendance, and image, leading to psychological torture, stigma, and depression (Orlale 2015).

According to Odhiambo Orlale (2015), the worst regions as far as physical violence against women is concerned are Western and Nyanza counties, which account for 51.6% and 49.5%, respectively, followed closely by Nairobi (46.1%) and Eastern (40.6%) counties. The rates of physical violence against women for the other areas are the following:
Central, 32.8%; Rift Valley, 32.4%; Coast, 27.4%; and the lowest is North Eastern, 12.1% (Orlale 2015). Orlale notes that with regard to sexual violence against women, the pattern is similar: Western and Nyanza counties are at the top with 25.3% and 19.4%; Nairobi, 21.8%; Eastern, 12.9%; Rift Valley, 9.7%; Coast, 9.1%; Central, 8.7%; and North Eastern, 0.4 %. Orlale reports that 72.6% of survivors of GBV were unwilling to pursue justice; while only 5% who were seen in health facilities in 2014 were willing to go to court, owing to insensitivity of law enforcement. The report notes that the victim protection system is weak and worsened by high levels of legal illiteracy in the country, especially among GBV survivors (Orlale 2015).

Women in Africa choose to engage in issues that are of immediate and direct significance to their daily lives. This enables them to make positive transformational social change or to better the circumstances of their lives and sometimes both. In their endeavor for peace, women are known for organizing themselves based on their gender interests, which may be practical or strategic. In many African countries, women in rural areas mobilize themselves based on practical interest, which in most cases is aimed at resolving basic needs problems. On the other hand, women in big cities or urban areas organize themselves based on strategic interest, to gain access to the social and political sphere, such as in education and politics.

Moreover, women continue to agitate for change through various platforms, including the formation of organized societies and political movements. One such example is the Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization (MYWO) in Kenya, which was formed in 1952 as a national and non-profit body that has been instrumental in promoting the empowerment of women, especially in the education and training sector. It has been working throughout Kenya with women at all levels of society. They include women at the grassroots and at the policy level. MYWO believes in changing the attitudes of women about themselves and their prospects and in inculcating positive views about women in society. As an organization that promotes women’s agency, MYWO was the first to use community-based distribution methods (CBDs) of contraceptives. It was also the first to advocate for the eradication of FGM through alternative rites of passage. It has also been involved in girl-child and civic education, advocacy for gender equity, elimination of harmful traditional practices to women’s health, female leadership development, and the promotion of home-based care for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Another example of women’s organizations in Kenya is the Coalition on Violence Against Women Organization (COVAW). COVAW was founded in 1995 as a response to the silence of Kenyan society on issues of violence against women and girls (COVAW 2016). COVAW’s origin is traced to a workshop organized by Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), which identified two critical areas that no organization was dealing with: a) violence against women and girls and b) the lack of women in decision-making processes. The workshop underscored the need to form a coalition that would address these problems. Based on the workshop deliberations, COVAW, which is now a registered non-profit organization in Kenya, was formed in 1995 by some of the participants.

Women are known for coming together to improve their condition in society because they have the same problems and uncertainties (Ferree and Mueller 2002). However, violence against women and girls remains a major problem in Kenya, and there is still much to be done to curtail this menace because the experience of violence affects women and girls in ways that are often difficult to quantify. Given the magnitude of the problem of violence against women and the formidable work of women’s organizations to combat the problem, the important issue of women’s agency needs to be addressed. This paper adds to our understating of these issues by specifically examining the problem of violence against women and girls through the lens of COVAW. By examining COVAW’s work, the paper simultaneously takes on both the issue of violence against women and women’s agency. COVAW was chosen because of its uniqueness as an organization that is predominantly dedicated to eradicating violence against women and girls in Kenyan society. Moreover, COVAW has gained a significant level of prominence in the country.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND WOMEN’S AGENCY

Violence against women and girls has been addressed in both the policy and scholarly domains. While many scholarly works focus on understanding the nature, cause, and effects, a key part of policy work centers on setting the legal instruments for combating the violence. Article 1 of the 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (United Nations 1993). Article 2 of DEVAW identifies three areas where violence against women occurs, namely, a) the family, b) the community, and c) the state. Within the family, violence against women includes physical, sexual, and psychological violence, wife battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence, and violence related to exploitation. At the community level, violence can include rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work and education institutions, trafficking in women, and forced prostitution. State-level violence includes physical, sexual, and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by state and non-state actors, especially in war situations.

In the case of Kenya, most of the incidences of violence against women and girls occurs within the family and the community where perpetrators are close acquaintances of the victims. It is also important to note that violence at the family and community level is condoned by the state due to its lack of effective prosecution of gender-based crimes. One common form of state-level violence against women in Kenya is sexual violence, which often occurs in the context of other forms of violations against women, such as extra-judicial killing, serious injury, torture, and forced displacement. The 2013 report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) noted that sexual violence was the most common type of violence that women in Kenya experienced. In 2005 alone, COVAW received reports of over 750 cases of sexual violence (TJRC 2013). The types of sexual violations reported to the TJRC include mass rapes (rape of many women in a community at the same time), gang rape (rape of women by more than two men at the same time), sodomy, mutilation of male and female genitals, castration, forced circumcision of both men and women, sexual torture, and penetration of women’s sexual organs by harmful objects (TJRC 2013: 713).

Kenya is party to various regional and international gender instruments that demonstrate the government’s commitment to attaining gender equity and equality. These instruments include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, the African Union (AU) Heads of Stats Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, and the Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Also, the 2010 Constitution of Kenya under the Bill of Rights (Chapter 4) recognizes the rights and fundamental freedom of all citizens and guarantees equality and freedom from discrimination on any grounds, including sex. Furthermore, Article 27 in the Bill of Rights stipulates that women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural, and social spheres. Other national legal frameworks include the Sexual Offences Act (2006), Employment Act (2007), Prohibition of FGM Act (2011), the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act (2010), the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, Gazettement of Sexual Offences Medical Treatment Regulations and Post Rape Care (PRC) Form, and the Victims Protection Act.

The Government of Kenya has also established various institutions with specific mandates to promote gender equality and equity and empowerment of women and men in the development process. These include the Directorate of Gender in the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC), and the Anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Board. Gender equality and empowerment of women is a priority in Kenyan development policies, such as Vision 2030 and the Second Medium Term Plan. Some of the gender policies are implemented through special funds at the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, such as the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF), Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF), Uwezo Fund, and the ear-marking of 30% of total government procurement to Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. As a government policy, the performance contracts for all ministries, departments, and agencies have to incorporate gender mainstreaming targets (Nairobi City Council County Health Services 2017: ii). The impact of all these efforts is that organizations, such as COVAW, working to reduce violence against women have a legal definition and references that are enshrined in the national, regional, and international legal and policies frameworks. If all these laws and policies are well-implemented by the government, then violence against women and girls would have been eradicated. Unfortunately, that has not yet fully materialized, which creates a real need for women’s organizations such as COVAW.

According to Francis Onditi and Josephine Odera (2016: 4), in most parts of Africa, women are economically, culturally, socially, and politically disadvantaged. They claim that due to institutional weakness, exclusion, and other barriers, women cannot enjoy their rights in accessing opportunities, decision-making processes, and basic services. Therefore, women are socialized to believe that men are superior and the violence inflicted upon them is a way of correcting their weaknesses. Such views about male superiority increase the rate at which violence is perpetuated against women, who in turn suffer in silence. Another problem is that women and girls are often not informed about their rights, which often leads to the acceptance and normalization of the violence perpetrated against them and the culture of violence and impunity. Too often violence against women is reduced to mere interpersonal crime within families or between strangers (Ahmed 2010: 128).

Susana Fried (2003: 91) notes that violence and the threat of violence terrorizes many women and keeps them from freely and wholly contributing to the social, economic, and political development of their communities. She further states that violence hinders all women’s abilities to exercise their human rights, and it circumscribes their capacity to function as full citizens in their society. Gender-based violence (GBV) cuts across race, class, religion, age, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, and geographic region (Fried 2003: 91).

In Kenya, social and cultural norms continue to undermine ongoing legal and administrative efforts to promote gender equality and reduce violence against women. According to COVAW (2017), the patriarchal nature of Kenyan society is the underlying reason for violence again women. Too often, men are believed to be superior to women. Also, many customs continue to oppress women’s freedoms, especially in rural areas. Traditional norms often link a woman’s sexuality to her honor and emphasize the need to ensure chastity, including through the use of FGM. In some Kuria and Teso communities, for example, it is taboo to discuss sexual matters (including sexual violations). Even when there are opportunities to speak out about violations, women in those communities often use alternative expressions to explain attacks against them (TJRC 2013). In Kwale County, marriages are arranged for girls at a young age, which has resulted in numerous cases of early marriages, early pregnancy, and forced marriages (Chimbi 2016). In Kajiado County, particularly among the Maasai communities, FGM is openly practiced even though it is illegal (Chimbi 2016).

A critical issue in the effort to combat violence against women and girls is agency. Onditi and Odera (2016: 9) outline five aspects of women’s agency: a) women’s access to and control over resources, b) freedom of movement, c) freedom from the risk of violence, d) decision-making over family formation, and e) political participation. Agency encompasses the ability to formulate strategic choices and to control resources and decisions that affect important life outcomes (Mishra and Tripathi 2011: 59). Women’s agency is therefore the ability of women to make effective choices and to transform those choices into desired outcomes. It rests on the fact that women, even within oppressive structures, engage in actions to change the terms of the debate, or lead to transformative change in their lives and society at large. According to Rita Manchanda (2005: 4741), women’s agency is most visible in spontaneous and sporadic interventions to protect their families from immediate violence, in campaigns against human rights abuse and for justice, and in building trust and reconciliation across the conflict divide. Women’s agency is an important constituent of women’s empowerment. Arguably, women’s agency is operative when it results in a fundamental shift in perceptions, or inner transformation, so that women are able to define self-interests and choice and consider themselves as not only able, but entitled to make choices (Mishra and Tripathi 2011: 59). Women themselves must be significant actors in the process of change rather than merely the recipients of change.

COVAW is a clear manifestation of women’s agency in Kenya. Over the past three decades, COVAW has worked with women and girls to curtail gender violence by making them significant actors in the process of change rather than mere recipients of the change in societies. It has been able to do this by reaching out to the victims of violence and engaging state institutions. By confronting the violence against women and girls, COVAW is contributing to significant change in the way violence against women and children is viewed and addressed. COVAW has been instilling the idea that violence against women is not just a regular crime, but also a violation of women’s human rights. COVAW has been lobbying for legislation; raising awareness through advocacy, education, and training; and developing strong national networks to end the violence.

COVAW AND THE FIGHT AGAINST GENDER VIOLENCE IN KENYA

COVAW is a women-led organization guided by feminist and human rights principles (COVAW 2016). It was established in 1995 as a membership organization, which was drawn from professional and individual women and men who are committed to the eradication of violence against women and the advancement of women’s human rights in general. At the time, COVAW strived to offer and effectively manage personalized services on a voluntary basis to its beneficiaries. COVAW’s mission is to “build effective mechanisms for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls” and seeks to promote change in Kenya by working in partnership with community-based organizations to form the critical mass needed to eradicate rampant violence against women and girls. Using a rights-based approach, COVAW believes that women are violated and vulnerable to violence because of unequal power relationships in society.

Although Kenya has ratified international and regional instruments such as CEDAW and the African Women’s Protocol, the comprehensive Sexual Offences Act was only passed in 2006. The main activities of COVAW include a) strengthening the voice and impact of women leaders as champions of change at the community level, b) linking local issues to the national and regional policy frameworks, and c) providing services to victims of gender violence (COVAW 2012). In order to achieve its mission, COVAW has developed four strategic objectives: to support law enforcement agencies, notably the police and courts, to provide an environment that ensures that women and survivors of violence realize their rights, to directly support women and girls and empower them to stand up for their rights, to empower community change agents and promote an effective and sustainable outreach project on violence against women, and to continue to develop COVAW so that it can be effective in its mission (COVAW 2016).
Since its inception, COVAW has been trying to make violence against women a public issue by ensuring that it is recognized as a crime and, more importantly, a human rights violation. To move the issue of violence against women from the private to the public domain, COVAW has embarked on the Breaking the Silence on Violence against Women campaign as one of its core and consistent strategies to create awareness (COVAW 2017). COVAW has successfully spearheaded the 16 Days of Activism campaign in Kenya, which is an annual international campaign from November 25th (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10th (International Human Rights Day). The campaign typically pushes three key demands for women: a) the right to be free from violence, b) the right to self-defense, and c) the right to state protection. In addition to the 16 Days of Activism campaign, COVAW has embarked on three major strategic initiatives: a) movement building and community activism (MBCA), b) access to justice and women’s rights (AJWR), and c) advocacy and communication (AC).

The MBCA initiative primarily focuses on the prevention of violence against women. COVAW works in communities to bring change through the use of the SASA! model to train community activists who are committed to the prevention of violence against women (COVAW 2017), who then initiate community conversations and reflections on the forms of power imbalance that perpetuate violence against women in their community. SASA! is a community mobilization toolkit to influence change in community norms relating to women, entailing four phases:
S (Start) is the “Pre-contemplation Phase” when people identify a women’s issue that needs to be addressed at the community level. A (Awareness) is the “Contemplation Phase” when COVAW activists garner information on the issue.
S (Support) is the “Preparation for Action Phase” when activists prepare to take action by examining the support system for women within the community.
A (Action) is the “Action and Maintenance Phase” when the individuals change their behavior, attitude, and maintain those changes. (COVAW 2017)
SASA! is a way of confronting the power imbalances that leads to violence against women and revolves around rethinking power, which is embodied in the slogan “your power, my power and the power we have together.” SASA! frames power in terms of a) the power within a person to prevent violence against women, b) the power over information on and awareness of the issues of violence against women, c) the collective power of people to prevent violence against women, and d) the power to act and make changes in order to address violence against women (COVAW 2017). SASA! is premised on the believe that communities have the power to a) learn and become aware, b) support others, and c) create change for safer and healthier relationships. More importantly, SASA! accentuates the power of women to prevent violence against them and thereby maintain peace (COVAW 2017).
The AJWR initiative seeks to strengthen the justice delivery mechanisms and to enable women and girls who are victims of violence to seek redress within the institutions of justice and helps women and girls whose rights have been violated to overcome all legal, social, financial, and structural barriers in the quest for justice. This initiative is premised on Article 48 of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, which reinforces the right of all persons to access justice without any impediments. AJWR is based on an integrated services approach for supporting survivors of violence, who are provided with legal, medical, and psychosocial support services. Most of these services are delivered through gender-based violence recovery centers (GBVRCs) located within the Kenyatta National Hospital, the Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi, the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital in Nakuru, and the Nyanza Provincial General Hospital in Kisumu. COVAW maintains a constant presence in these centers in order to support survivors (COVAW 2017). The AJWR initiative also has a legal component. Through the AJWR initiative, COVAW conducts awareness forums and legal aid clinics to empower women and girls with knowledge about their rights and the reporting procedures for human rights violations and gender violence. COVAW also collaborates with like-minded human rights organizations (e.g., the Kenyan Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists and Physicians for Human Rights) to improve the implementation of existing national, regional, and international laws and policies as well as actively advocating for new legislative and policy amendments to enhance extant laws and policies (COVAW 2017).

The AC initiative seeks to enhance the formulation and implementation of laws and policies relating to violence against women and girls. Its main aim is to create an enabling environment for women in Kenya to claim their rights and be vindicated by working with policy makers and law enforcement bodies (COVAW 2017). The AC initiative is premised on the belief that by engaging law enforcement and judicial bodies and key national policy makers, women will receive timely, quality, and effective services in matters relating to violence against them
(COVAW 2017).

As an organization, COVAW has been working mainly in Samburu, Narok, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kisumu, Kisii, Migori, Tana River, Kwale, Nakuru, Kiambu, and Nairobi counties in Kenya. In all of these places, COVAW has been pursuing justice for highly vulnerable persons. For example, the Intellectually Challenged Women and Girls Project provides legal and psychosocial support to mentally challenged victims of SGBV. In Kwale County, COVAW works with young mothers through sensitization campaigns and clubs to train them on sexual and reproductive health and job skills, and in Narok County, COVAW has worked with key decision makers in the community to eradicate some of the traditional practices that are harmful to women, such as FGM. To demonstrate COVAW’s impact, it is useful to focus on two key areas that are at the heart of the problem of violence against women: a) sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and b) violence related to harmful cultural practices.

With respect to SGBV, COVAW has two major projects: the Intellectually Challenged Women and Girls Project and political violence against women, most notably during the 2007–08 post-election period. The Intellectually Challenged Women and Girls Project, which was started in 2013, seeks to provide integrated legal and psychosocial support services to victims of SGBV in Nairobi and Kiambu counties, specifically those with mental health challenges. Each year, over four hundred women benefit from the Intellectually Challenged Women and Girls Project, which provides free legal aid to survivors of violence and facilitates court representation through pro bono advocates. Currently, there are twenty-three volunteer advocates who provide litigation assistance. In addition, COVAW has trained over two hundred community paralegals as a part of this project, who receive and manage cases of sexual and gender-based violence within their communities. A key part of their work is the appropriate collection and preservation of evidence, which is critical for the successful prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women and girls (COVAW 2016). In addition to direct prosecution, the Intellectually Challenged Women and Girls Project also provides capacity training for medical and law enforcement professionals on how to address sexual and gender-based crimes, most of which target police officers, health care service providers, county administrators, prosecutors, magistrates, and district level social welfare officers. The trainings typically address structural and social challenges experienced by survivors of violence (COVAW 2017).

The second project focuses on political violence against women, most notably the 2007–08 post-election violence. The goal of the project is to provide psychosocial assistance to the victims of sexual and gender-based violence during this period and also seeks to secure justice for them (TJRC 2013). A notable element of this project is the public interest litigation case (Petition No. 122 of 2013) filed by COVAW on February 20, 2013 seeking compensatory relief for victims, which includes women from Nairobi, Kericho, and Kisumu, the most affected areas during the 2007–08 post-election violence. The lawsuit was filed in partnership with the Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), which is a Kenyan NGO. The lawsuit was filed against the Kenyan state and named the attorney general, the director of public prosecutions, the inspector general of the National Police Service and the Independent Police Oversight Authority, the Ministry of Medical Service, and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation as the defendants. The key claim of the lawsuit is that a) the government failed to properly train and prepare the police to protect civilians from sexual violence, b) the police refused and/or neglected to document and investigate claims of SGBV, c) the government denied emergency medical services to victims, and d) the government failed to provide necessary care and compensation to the victims (COVAW 2017). Two of the respondents in the case, the director of public prosecutions and the inspector general of the National Police Service, filed their responses to the petition on January 22, 2014. The commencement of the hearing of evidence (commencement of the trial) began on March 25, 2014. The case is still ongoing (COVAW 2017).

The second major focus area for COVAW has been on violence related to harmful cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriages, and forced pregnancies. COVAW has three main projects in this area: the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of Women and Girls in Narok County, the Maanda Sexual and Reproductive Health project in Narok County, and the Kwale Girls Project. The Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of Women and Girls in Narok County project centers on local community activism and advocacy for laws, policies, and guidelines that are gender friendly (COVAW 2016). The Maanda Sexual and Reproductive Health project (2015–17) in Narok County focuses on addressing gender inequalities to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for women through, for example, educational activities geared toward changing social norms and attitudes related to reproduction and family planning. The project has been implemented in three sub-counties in Narok County: South, North, and East. The third project is the Kwale Girls Project, whose overall aim is to improve educational rights for girls in Kwale county by addressing factors that impede their education both at school and within the community through teacher training, public sensitization campaigns, and the establishment of after school clubs for girls that provide basic education on sexual and reproductive health and life skills.

CONCLUSION

Despite the fact that African women are primarily seen as victims of violence, they have also emerged as tremendous human resources at the local, national, and international levels. By using women’s agency, women’s organizations, such as COVAW, have proved that they have the abilities and capacities to combat violence against women and girls. In a way, the successes and challenges of COVAW illustrate the broader issues of women’s agency in combating gender-based violence in Kenya. Overall, COVAW has been successful in empowering women, raising awareness, and deterring violence against women. In particular, COVAW was a key player in the fight to pass the Domestic Violence Act in 2015. Arguably, there is an improved understanding of the legal provisions and procedures relating to violence against women in Kenya, and COVAW has been a key player in that endeavor. In many places, COVAW’s training of community members as paralegals has improved the quality of case handling and enabled more victims of gender-based and sexual violence to access justice, including numerous convictions.

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Fatuma ahmed ali (fmali@usiu.ac.ke) is associate professor of International Relations at the United States International University—Africa (USIU-A) and an external researcher of the Interuniversity Institute for Social Development & Peace (IUDESP) of the Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain. She holds a European Doctorate with distinction and an International Master’s in peace, conflict and development studies from the UNESCO Chair for Philosophy of Peace, Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain. She has published several chapters and articles in Spanish and English. Her research interests include issues related women and peace, sexual and gender-based violence, Islamic feminism, and peace journalism.