The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Catholic Church Stands Up to Gender Violence

opinion

Gender based violence is an issue that has been prevalent for far too long. This vice has continued to be a serious global health, human rights and development issue. It transcends the bounds of geography, race, culture, class and religion, touching virtually every community in every part of the globe. It is condoned by outdated customs and reinforced by institutions which are thriving because there is no fear of punishment. It affects men, women, boys and girls.

The development office of the Catholic diocese of Maralal in Samburu has an active desk that is mandated to ensure that issues on gender based violence are addressed. The Church is on the frontline to fight the scourge of Female Genital Mutilation which is a harmful rite of passage, still practiced despite its negative side effects. It is one among the most common forms of gender based violence in Samburu.

Some 3 million women and girls face Female Genital Mutilation every year, while some 100 to 140 million have already undergone the practice. From a medical point of view it is unhealthy and causes adverse gynecological conditions. Some of the negative effects of the same include injury to adjacent tissues of the vagina, profuse bleeding, shock, acute urine retention, HIV/Aids infections and recurrent urinary tract Infections.

The diocese has facilitated awareness creation in Samburu County on the adverse effects of harmful cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, early and forced marriages and sexual violence against women. The Justice and peace Department of the diocese deals with 4-5 cases of gender based violence every week.

The Catholic Church has a girl child education and Rescue Centre in Suguta Mar Mar Parish premises, located 42 kilometres away from Samburu County headquarters. The Centre accommodates girls who have escaped from their homes to find shelter there. The girls are victims of FGM, forced/early marriages and other forms of gender based violence. The sister in charge of the rescue centre Sister Fransisca Nzilani says "it is difficult to support these girls without funding. The girls depend on the rescue centre for most of their basic needs which include sanitary towels, education, stationery, food, clothing and shelter on a monthly basis"

Agnes Nakutuni aged 13 was rescued from Angata Nanyukie two years ago. Sr. Fransisca Nzilani says that when they rescued the girl she had jiggers all over her body. The young girl also suffers from epilepsy and has incoherent speech. "It was daily routine for Agnes to be thrashed by her birth mum every day, when we rescued her she had cuts in every other part of her body" she further says. Two years down the line the Agnes has recovered and can now fetch water. The process of reconciliation with her birth mum has not been easy because the girl is still scared. One of the key things that victims need is professional counseling as they get detached from their family upon fleeing from this harmful rite of passage.

Through awareness creation the target communities understand the negative effects of gender based violence. However this is not enough. A lot needs to be done to end this endemic vice. Community justice structures have to be formed, trained and empowered through liaising with the Kenya Police to help victims of rape, early marriages, child labor get the justice they deserve.

The government in partnership with NGOs, FBOs and other stake holders needs to empower victims to speak out. Samburu County is remote and marginalized from mainstream development. It lacks basic infrastructure with some areas being out of mobile telephone network coverage. However, that should not deter our activities in the long run, with adequate resourcing and in collaboration with the government, a helpline should be set up to provide a platform for victims living in Samburu County urban areas to seek redress.

Espila Lucy is the Gender Focal Person for Caritas Maralal. This is the development arm of the Catholic Church in Samburu County.

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