Fighting to end gender-based violence

Kajiado County in Kenya has experienced increased violence against women and girls during the last three years. The negative trend can be explained by the fact that Kenya undergoes the most severe and longest drought in 40 years, says public health clinical specialist Caren Kamau. Together with her team, Caren aims to contribute to ending violence against women and girls in her county. Caren is one of the three ICLD participants of the Gender Mainstreaming programme, constituting Team Kajiado.

There are various forms of violence against women and girls which occurs frequently in Kajiado County, including sexual abuse, beatings, forced marriages, female genital mutilation (FGM). Many of the abuses happen in the home, and attackers are either family members, or neighbors.

Caren Kamau expresses her pride in coming from Kajiado County, a pastoral community ”hosting Kenyan culture”, as she puts it. Yet, she does not try to diminish the major problem of certain harmful traditions of Maasai people that oppress the girl child: female genital mutilation (a traditional rite of passage of young women which has been banned in the country since 2011), and forced marriages of eleven- and twelve-year-olds.

– Now, with the issue of climate change and the drought within our county, we have seen the numbers becoming higher and higher, because parents neither can feed their children, nor support them to continue with their education, says Caren Kamau.

Thus, families in Kajiado are facing desperate choices to survive: many natural open water sources have dried up, and that, in its turn, kills livestock, leaving many on the brink of starvation. A common survival strategy that families resort to is marrying off their pre-teen daughters to an old man who has a livestock large enough to provide support to the family.

– The good thing is that we have a policy on a female genital mutilation within our country, but the acceptance in the community has been a bit slow. And with the political goodwill, they are at least trying to work with all government agencies to see how we can curb the number of young girls who are married off and then become pregnant in their teens.

Urban vs. rural

The interviewee emphasizes the unique nature of her county, implying the fact that it is made up of both urban and rural populations. And the two groups differ to great extent in terms of the forms of violence experienced by women: there are big numbers of defilement cases, forced marriages and teenage pregnancies among the rural population, while the metropolitan population is mainly reporting rapes, sexual and physical abuse.

Change process to end GBV

Team Kajiado have set goals to eliminate the root causes of gender-based violence in their county – through their change process within ICLD’s Gender Mainstreaming programme. Among others, the team strive to launch and implement the Kajiado Gender Mainstreaming Policy. Such a policy would work as a mechanism which helps Kajiado to challenge gender norms, build equity and increase accountability. Caren Kamau says that, despite some challenges as a result of a disrupted legislative process due to the mid-year elections, the team feel optimistic about reaching this goal by the middle of next year, when the training nears its end.

Having gender mainstreaming at the Department of Health and scaling up service delivery at the newly opened gender-based violence recovery centre, and the lactation center are some other objectives that Caren together with the other team members have set.

Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre

The recovery centre, which provides a safe space for survivors to access health services in appropriate time, has highlighted the many cases of teen pregnancies in the county. It has also shown that with timely interventions, the number of teen pregnancies can be reduced. An important function that the centre fulfils is to ensure that abuse is reported to the authorities.

– Most of our survivors do not even know that there is help for them, Caren explains. What we had seen before the centre was established was that rape survivors went to the police without getting any medical help, and ended up with HIV infections and unintended pregnancies. And because Kenyan law does not recommend abortion, these girls had to undergo back-end abortions and risk their lives.

The center has ignited other county departments to come together to support gender mainstreaming within the work force and the community. This is because the data generated is able to highlight the plight of the county where cultural norms and practices hinder gender equality and equity. Caren Kamau says:

– The center has registered a good number of success stories of survivors. This is following the strengthening of referral pathways with other government departments.

The interviewee adds that her team’s participation in the Gender Mainstreaming programme has been an eye-opener:

– We always thought that it is something for the Gender Department itself. However, when we had our first workshop in Kenya, I realized that we need to look at gender mainstreaming in all aspects and maintain a cross-sector collaboration.

Team Kajiado members: Jonathan Marima Kulei, Chief Officer Health, Yvonne Anyango Aiko, Coordinator, and Caren Kamau, GBV County Focal Person.


Who is Caren Kamau?

– I am a public health clinical specialist with over fourteen years of experience and expertise in TB, HIV/AIDS, STI, and other infectious diseases. Over the past 5 years, I have been working as a program officer for the HIV/AIDS program within Kajiado County. I am passionate about women health and access to health within the County. Kajiado County has a high burden of teen pregnancies and forced marriages coupled with Female Genital Mutilation.

– Having worked in the County Department of Health, I have been privileged to be the focal person heading the department of Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response in the entire County. This is a position I have held for 11 months and I am happy with the efforts we have made so far that include the establishment of a Public Gender Based Violence Recovery Center.