The Ogiek people of Kenya are an indigenous hunter-gatherer community scattered across the vast Mau Forest Complex. Among them is the Ogiek of Baringo, found exclusively within small forests in the former Koibatek District (now Eldama Ravine sub-county).
As a minority and a marginalized community in Kenya, the Ogiek of Kenya face numerous challenges, including but not limited to high poverty levels, illiteracy, lack of political representation, and evictions from their ancestral land.
Koibatek Ogiek has a unique history of being the first settlers of the forests found in the Eldama Ravine sub-county, including Maji Mazuri forest, Koibatek Forest, Esageri Forest, and Narasha Forest, among others.
The Ogiek Community lost a patriarch and a significant member of the National Ogiek Council of elders, their leader, a renowned and respectable Chief, the late Chief Tarigo, in the recent past.
The ordeal has worsened their situation regarding their quest for justice for their claim on their ancestral land, Mau Forest.
However, the fight continues for the Ogiek of Koibatek, although only a few of them who are educated are really doing much to help elevate the status of their community; some have long moved on and only a few keep the candle burning.
High poverty and illiteracy levels, marginalization, eviction from their ancestral lands and assimilation by neighboring communities have rendered the Ogiek of Koibatek nearly extinct.
They have lost most of their Culture and Language and have been forced to adopt those of their neighbors.
However, as a community, they still uphold their traditional way of life of beekeeping as their primary activity.
Due to all these factors, women, girls and young people are the most affected. Due to evictions meted against the community for the past three decades, women and children have been the biggest casualties.
They lost their homes, their spiritual grounds as well as their main source of livelihood and income: their beekeeping businesses.
Koibatek Ogiek Women and Youth Network (KOWYN) is a community-based organization based in Eldama Ravine in Baringo County.
It was established by the Koibatek community to fight for their numerous rights as minority people and as the rightful settlers of the Koibatek forests.
As part of its programs, KOWYN puts a particular focus on women’s and girls’ rights and Agroecology as a way to mitigate Climate Change, according to its Founder and Director, Judy Kipkenda.
Her main motivation for initiating KOWYN was to empower the community, which raised her holistically.
While in full realization of the ongoing issues troubling mother earth, including climate change, Ms. Kipkenda seeks to change the narrative of her community by fighting for literacy amplification of her people, especially for the girls, through economically empowering women and young people by initiating environmentally friendly activities and through championing for the protection and restoration of their ancestral home, the Mau Forest, by incorporating Agro-ecology.
By these, she will achieve her dream of ensuring the Ogiek are a sensitized community through Women and Youth who later become positive influencers.
Teen pregnancies, GBV, FGM
Ogiek Women and girls are very resilient, despite the many challenges they face. However, they are extremely poor, which puts them at risk of facing Gender-Based Violence.
Also, due to illiteracy, the majority of them are not empowered to know their Sexual and reproductive health rights. KOWYN identified this as a gap.
During long school holidays, Ogiek girls, just like in many other indigenous communities, are subjected to deep-rooted retrogressive cultures which form Gender Based Violence (GBV), including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) and early/forced marriages.
Because of these reasons, on December 15, 2022, KOWYN decided to hold its end-of-the-year capacity building and mentorship forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of the Ogiek Women and Girls as well as Gender Based Violence targeting these girls and women in Kamara, Eldama Ravine.
During the forum, many issues arose from the participating women and girls as the main issues they face, and they suggested solutions too.
It clearly came out that poverty levels mostly contribute to the high levels of school dropout and early marriages in the community.
Despite the Second Chance Program by the government of Kenya, such sensitization has yet to reach them.
The young mothers have no idea that they have a right to return to school.
Some are crippled with the burden of whom to leave their young ones with due to not having any support back home, while new mothers have self-esteem issues and have no one to talk their feelings with.
Most parents are shy to speak to their children about sex education since it is regarded as a taboo topic.
In the Ogiek community, one of their main targets is also to multiply and keep their minority tribe relevant and out of the minority tag, thus the challenges of early marriages facing the girl child.
Most women also confessed that some families had already taken their girls for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in different counties.
With such allegations, the illegal practice waters down efforts that have been put in place by Organizations, the government, and well-wishers concerning the right to protect the girl child.
Though the practice has been on the security radar, it’s unfortunate how much can pass them by.
The community involved in the practice seems to have devised new tactics to evade facing the law.
Such threats facing young girls in a minority community threaten the efforts KOWYN and the government are putting in place.
At the forum led by Ms. Kipkenda at Kamara, many young and underage mothers were witnessed.
To solve this problem, the women requested to be empowered economically to alleviate their poverty through poultry keeping by requesting for chick incubators, rabbit rearing, dairy farming, sheep and goat rearing, and beekeeping projects.
Being a minority community and with all odds working against them, they feel empowerment is what they need to depend on themselves.
Young men and adults also joined the outdoor forum later out of curiosity.
Ms. Kipkenda had to request the men to commit to making sure their girls, who are daughters, cousins and siblings, are protected from GBV and go to school, which they committed to.
“KOWYN cannot manage such a community alone; this is a call to the County and National government to have a special focus on girls from this community.
I wish they would join us in empowering our women economically and ensure every girl stays in school through a regular supply of sanitary towels to keep them motivated, highly self-esteemed, and focused on their education,” Ms. Kipkenda insisted.
KOWYN had also invited different speakers to address the women and girls: Monica Yator, a Human Rights defender and an Agro-ecology enthusiast, also the Executive director Indigenous Women and Girls Initiative (IWGI) and Sharon Chebet, a young woman nominated Member of County Assembly (MCA).
Ms. Chebet tackled human interest topics, top of the Agenda being the Women and the Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health rights, Education, then economic tactics and agro-ecology.
KOWYN donated Sanitary Towels to the young girls and underpants to older women in the forum.
Ms. Chebet shared her life story with the school-going girls as well as the women present on how she faced challenges but never gave up on her education, finally achieving her dreams of becoming a seasoned Lawyer and finally getting nominated to a political position as a Member of County Assembly (MCA).
“At times, I used to sleep hungry, but I thanked God every morning. I worked hard and became a lawyer through sponsorship of my education. Never give up. I have built my mum a better house and improved her life,” she encouraged the young girls.
She equally revealed that she is very passionate about girls’ education and promised to walk the journey with KOWYN to ensure the Ogiek of Koibatek achieve desired literacy levels.
The Ogiek are well known traditional beekeeping and a hunter-gatherer community.
However, since when the government banned hunting, the Ogiek had to practice different forms of livelihood, including farming.
Those in Kamara, in particular, ventured into potato farming, with a few of them maintaining a few bee hives.
Due to many factors, like being evicted from their land and denial of access and control of their land, they practice small-scale farming on small pieces of land they bought.
While introducing Agro-Ecology to the community, Ms. Yator termed it a campaign she undertakes under her initiative.
She noted that the approach to have the Ogiek Community practice livelihood diversification would fetch them more income from selling farm produce that does well, especially under such beautiful highlands.
She taught the community how to make their pesticides and compost manure and asked them to stop depending on the expensive manure sold at the agro shops.
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“The community is yet to advance; buying manure for them must be quite a challenge. There is need for them to take advantage of this activity of making their own manure. The good thing is that they have all the available materials to do that,” said Yator.
Community-based organizations like KOWYN and IGWI will continue as long as they have the community goodwill and the zeal to continue empowering the girl child.