Family institutions serve as basis for communal structures yet the scourge of violence between men and women as a result of inequality cultured by the gendered norms seems to tear down structures that build the communities. In the wake of the scourge, women and girls are mostly affected.
It is a tale that Catherine Wangui knows too well; in the wake of the 2007-08-post election violence her cousin was sexually assaulted and their property destroyed leaving them with no house to shelter.
Seeing her cousin go through the rape ordeal and not having the capacity to help opened her eyes to the issues of gender based violence (GBV) and its severity. Her resolve was to find solutions to what was ailing the communities living in Laini Saba village in Kibra.
“In Kibra the cases of rape and domestic violence seems to be rampant. Communities must be educated to rise above such crimes with adverse effects on women and girls. Violence is never a way of life but a catastrophe,” says Wangui.
Statistics from the UN Women indicates that an estimated 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner or known partners at some points in their lives. Such cases not only affect the health and safety of women and girls but also lead to loss of lives.
The 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey defines gender based violence as any physical, sexual or psychological violence that occurs within the family or general community.
Today, Wangui is one of the benevolent anti-GBV champions who uses the SASA Model (community centered approach on behavior change) to sensitize and mobilize communities into action in addressing gender based violence from the household level to the communities.
The SASA! approach implemented in four phases; Start, Awareness, Support and Action aims to inspire, enable and structure effective community mobilization to prevent violence against women and HIV/AIDs. It questions the cultural norms surrounding GBV and ultimately works towards preventing gender based violence and its connection to prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
The program is being implemented by CREAW in partnership with the Embassy of Finland and additional support from the Jewish World Service (AJWS) . Much of the work entails working directly with community activists to create awareness, challenge the attitudes, behaviours and cultural practices that negatively impact women and girls around five villages of Kibra. The villages include: Lindi, Laini Saba, Makina Kianda and Gatwekera.
“It is important that GBV issues are addressed at the grassroots level where power is the root cause of negative social norms, attitudes and cultures that negatively affect relations between men and women, “explains Aggrey Okan’ga, a community activist from Lindi Village.
Okan’ga notes, “even though the knowledge on GBV exists among people living in Kibra, it is yet to translate into change in attitudes and behaviours of communities. Instead, communities choose to normalize early marriages, domestic violence and child exploitations as common and acceptable practice. The more reason, why we need to sustain the momentum in educating communities to stem such practices.”
Like Wangui, Okan’ga also underwent the capacity building trainings that were supported by CREAW. To acquire the tittles community activists come mentors trained annually and armed with tools that help them to engage communities in conversations that seek to change not just their knowledge but also their attitudes, skills and behaviours which are replicated in what they say and in their actions.
The SASA model works with a network of community activists who are well known in the community and the work that they do. They are regarded as community leaders hence act as the key points of referral on GBV cases across the five villages where the program is being implemented.
To influence change, Okan’ga has been engaging community opinion shapers like chiefs, village elders, religious leaders, women leaders and the youth in community discussions to challenge power imbalances in the family units.
“As activist we reach at least 300 community members per village through the forums. The meetings are structured in such a way that we reach the participants either in their formal or informal settings. Our discussions are normally held in the market place, sports grounds or churches, mosques and schools, and other ‘spaces where small groups of people meet and engage in ‘small talk’ on current affairs and things that they are unhappy about;” explains Okan’ga
“As result of the engagement in the community the number of referrals form the community has improved. We get calls from families in distress, mothers whose children have been affected by sexual violence or those who have marital concerns regarding custody of children,” Pauline Aroko, CREAW Case Officer in Kibra.
She says the case officers are often called upon to mediate on family feuds and support the warring groups to come to an amicable agreement especially on the care and protection of their children.
“We have also been able to create a good working relationship with the GBV service providers that has efficiently improved the referral system and aided the efficiency in the follow-up of cases and the provision of services to the GBV survivors,” Aroko explains.