18 January 2016

Kenya: Female PEV Victims Call for Harmony

The 2007-2008 post-election violence had a profound effect on hundreds of thousands of Kenyans. Women in the Rift Valley were particularly hard hit. In the wake of the violence, some of these women decided to come up with initiatives that would help avoid a repetition of the PEV. One of these initiatives is the Women in Action for Peace, led by Rose Githinji.

"The reason we began Women in Action for Peace is because we wanted to see how we as women could contribute towards promoting peace in the country. We also want to fight against tribalism. When there is no peace, it is not one tribe which suffers but it is women across the board."

The group is made up of women from various tribes in the North Rift. Most of them, including Regina Muthoni, are victims of the post-election violence. Muthoni lost her mother when the Kiambaa Church K.A.G - where inhabitants had sought refuge - was burnt to the ground.

"My mother was disabled and had to use a wheelchair. She had sought refuge in the church. Unfortunately when the building was set ablaze, she couldn't escape due to the commotion. It was so painful. It was difficult to cope at first, but I finally had to accept that it had happened."

The pain Regina went through is something she wouldn't like other people to experience. That's why she decided to join the women's initiative. It has given her the courage to promote reconciliation.

Most of the women in the initiative were able to find peace, forgiveness and emotional healing through counseling sessions provided by the group's counselors.

"In the past, if you had asked me if I could forgive, I would have said never. But through the group counseling sessions, I came to accept that what happened was in the past. Therefore, I have to try and overcome my pain," adds Regina.

No justice

Some of the victims decided to join the women's initiative after fruitlessly pacing up and down the corridors of justice. They realised that they just had to let go. Evelyn is one of them. Her daughter was raped during the PEV.

"We felt so frustrated trying to seek justice. It was all in vain. We felt disillusioned and excluded from the justice system. There has never been any will on the part of the relevant institutions in Kenya to bring the perpetrators to book even though we know who they are. The only thing the people in power care about now is how to get the ICC suspects freed. They have forgotten about the poor victims who suffered."

According to Evelyn, there are only two tribes in Kenya and not 42 as is generally believed: the tribe of the poor (citizens) and the tribe of the rich (politicians).

"We the people vote for them, but we end up fighting amongst ourselves and killing each other. When things go wrong, we are left in the cold, while they (the leaders) shelter and protect each other because they belong to the same tribe: the tribe of the rich."

Economic empowerment

Since 2008, Women in Action for Peace has been providing economic empowerment opportunities to women across the Rift Valley, explains Githinji.

"We started by visiting one another, first in our neighbourhood. We would sit and eat together, reason together and find out how we can open up to one another. As Kikuyus and Kalenjins and so on, we preach peace to ourselves and then take the message to women in other areas. Later, we developed the idea of merry-go-rounds (table banking) amongst ourselves. We move from house to house and provide financial support to the member using our own contributions to help her set up a business or start an agricultural project."

Another member, Mary Kirui, says this has helped members get on with their lives with their minds focused on development rather than on the pain of the past and tribal differences.

"We feel proud of this initiative because it really has improved our lives. At the same time, it has improved relations amongst us.

"What I can tell my fellow women is this: women are the pillars of peace, and as women, we should be in the frontlines of preaching reconciliation. We should forget about our communities and instead be strong and pull together in looking for peaceful alternatives in society."

Brown is the pseudonym of a Nairobi-based reporter.

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