Why gender-based violence irks these activists

Rebecca Basweti leads other Kisii County residents in a demonstration to demand for the arrest of a SGBV perpetrator that had defiled his stepdaughter. PHOTO/Courtesy.

It was a defilement incident that pushed Rebecca Basweti to picket in the streets and she vowed never to be silent whenever such incidents occur.

In Megogo village in Marani sub-county, Kisii County, a 50 year old father had sexually assaulted his step-daughter and then fled.

“When I heard about the incident, I recall thinking this just can’t become normal. I must do something about it,” Ms Basweti recalls.

The man had intimidated his wife with a series of threats before fleeing the area.

“Even as we looked for him, I felt helpless at some point because the child’s mother was afraid to speak out and fall victim to his wrath. The family had a history of defilement,” Ms Basweti said.  

But, Ms Basweti, who founded the Save A Child Gusii Inititative (Saci) in August 2019, was not one to give up easily.

“I have always maintained an active and vocal presence on my social media accounts. This was the perfect opportunity to raise widespread awareness of the injustice that is sexual and gender based violence against a minor,” she said.

She quickly mobilized a group of other county residents to publicly protest the act and demand for the perpetrator’s arrest.

Women representative Janet Ongera also joined in the demos. Her appearance added a powerful voice to the clamour for an end to a menace that has left many girls physically and emotionally scarred.  

Ms Ongera pointed the finger at men in the county that has a population of 1.3 million for the recent rise in SGBV cases involving minors.

“Fathers like any other parent have a responsibility to take care of their children. Unfortunately, in our community, they are the main culprits in a number of defilement cases,” she said.

The lawmaker said a number of suspects have been released after getting arrested because of poor investigations.

Ms Ongera also blamed the affected families for failing to cooperate with law enforcement and judicial officers.

Things got hot for the perpetrator as the group’s appeal for justice went viral.

“With the wide public condemnation that followed, it was going to be difficult for the perpetrator to find refuge within the region. An outraged community was not going to give him the luxury of having peaceful days and nights while hiding from justice,” Ms Basweti said.  

“We held placards and marched for justice. After we shared photos of the girl’s blood-soaked clothes online, the campaign quickly gained traction on, attracting the attention of the wider public. We tagged the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and the public responded to our push by sharing and forwarding our posts,” she said.

Police detectives who were hot on the suspect’s trail finally traced his hideout and arrested him. Justus Ong’era was charged with the offence in a Kisii Court, where he denied the charges before magistrate Ezekiel Obinah.

The case is ongoing at the court.

Rebecca Basweti receives a state certificate of recognition from CS Prof Margaret Kobia. She was honoured for her efforts to fight SGBV and also create awareness on ways to eliminate the menace. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Ms Basweti was also on the frontlines two years ago when a man defiled his five month old daughter

For the crime, David Minyonga was jailed for 30 years.

On May 21, 2021, Ms Basweti received a certificate of recognition as an anti-FGM and SGBV champion from CS Prof Margaret Kobia for her advocacy for the elimination of these vices.

Unfortunately, such cases in the deeply conservative region are not isolated. The tide is however turning against defilers as more brave women join in the fight to protect vulnerable girls and secure justice for SGBV survivors.

Ms Basweti says a drastic change in long held reservations can help rip the veil of silence, stigma and secrecy that hangs over sexual assault cases.

“If only more of us can speak out more often and in places where it matters, like courts, places of worship, schools and on the floors of Parliament and the Senate! To eliminate it, we need to condemn and discourage the vice as much as we can,” she says.

According to County Children’s officer Beatrice Obwocha, everyone has a role to play in children’s protection. This, she says, includes parents whose spouses defile their children.

She points out that the law does not condone the practice of covering up defilement cases.

“We need safety at home. Perpetrators should carry their own cross and mothers have a stake in coming out to speak the truth,” says the child welfare boss.   

Ms Naomi Barare is a child rights activist, community health volunteer and legal rights advocate.

“I am a committee trainer on human rights and a member of the court users’ committee in Nyamira County. As CHV, I see my clients and collect data as well. I share basic health information including basic COVID-19 prevention measures, hygiene and follow up on expectant and lactating mothers,” she said.

“We serve on the court’s committee. Part of our duty is to determine how best to protect the dignity and privacy of the minors whose cases are coming up for mention or hearing before the courts,” she says.

Ms Barare who works on a voluntary basis, says the tendency to use kangaroo courts in defilement cases has proven a major obstacle to justice. This occurs due to informal arrangements between the families of the victims and the perpetrators.

“The families are given money and told to drop the cases. Sometimes they are promised a better life or some business opportunities in return for their silence and complicity in the injustice their child has suffered,” she says.

To ensure cases get successfully prosecuted, she advocates for the state protection of witnesses.

“It is sad that Nyamira County lacks a safe house for SGBV survivors,” she notes.

“The government needs to liaise with hospitals or police stations to have the survivors stay there. This will ensure they avoid close contact with other family members who may tamper with the legal process,” adds Barare.

She has seen the cases of SGBV in the county rise since the arrival of COVID-19 in Kenya.

Ms Basweti poses for a photo with boda boda operators during a sensitization drive in Marani, Kisii County. She is involved in efforts to empower the riders to protect minors from early marriages, drug and alcohol abuse as well as illicit sex. This will ensure they complete their education and avoid consequences like unplanned pregnancies, STIs and HIV. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many families. SGBV cases have increased since the virus was first reported arrived in Kenya,” she said.  

“The number of such violations is increasing because of financial constraints, non-commitment of parents to their children and cultural erosion.”

Ms Barare has dedicated herself to spreading the reproductive health rights message.

Well-informed girls, she says, are more aware of themselves and thus more likely to make the right choices about their bodies.

She strongly believes that girls should have access to reproductive health information that will enable them make informed decisions on their sexuality, including reporting incidents of sexual assaults in case they occur.

She is passionate about girls’ rights to access academic and job opportunities. Naomi sees the career ladder is a way for the impressionable teens to escape the lure of risky, illicit sexual activities.

“To protect and prosper our girls, give them necessary and updated information about their bodies. Guide them towards realizing potential space in society. Emphasize more on their future in terms of career, education and ethics,” Barare says.

She is asking Nyamira’s county government referral hospital to provide a youth friendly SGBV wing.

Barare adds that more youth are likely to provide crucial details on their encounters with defilers.

“Once a defiled minor or a youthful survivor of rape understands that the environment is friendly, he or she may open up to share whatever experience she went through, along with any other concerns she may have,” she says.

Vivian Moindi is a mother of three, a motivational speaker and an educationist.

She has endured the scars of a violent marriage that left her broken after a painful divorce.

“Getting married at a young age seriously limited my voice and career options. My place was in the kitchen and bedroom,” says the teacher. “I constantly lived on the edge, in and out of a violent and abusive marriage that laid a heavy physical, emotional and spiritual burden on me,” she recalls.

Her first degree studies would take an agonizingly slow 11 years to complete.

“The violence in our marriage would hit a peak whenever I raised any issues around my studies and career. I would often pack and leave for my parents’ home, only to return after pleas for forgiveness from my former husband,” she says.  

Vivian finally recollected herself after an acrimonious divorce. She won a scholarship for a masters degree in earth and space physics at the University of Nairobi (UoN).  

“My dreams had been buried for 10 years as a housewife. I now aspire to reach the moon,” a confident Vivian says.

She is the founder of Raising Teens Kenya (RTK).

It is not easy to get teens to talk about their challenges.

Vivian Moindi at Sensi Ward, Marani Sub-county, Kisii County for a reproductive health awareness exercise. Some 167 girls and 150 boys benefited from material and educational support. The girls were given enough pads to last for a year and an additional set of underwear. Each of the boys got 2 boxers and a pack of vests. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“Most of the teens are not ready to open up because they are afraid of ridicule, judgement and punishment. It takes time to build their confidence to speak out but when they do, we do what we can to address their challenges,” she says.

Her organization is so far handling the return of 15 girls to school. RTK recently rescued two girls from early marriages.

“Seven are in primary school with six in secondary school. Two delivered babies in the months of July and August,” Vivian says.

The students had abandoned their studies to get married to their boyfriends residing in Kisii Town.

“They got married some time after schools closed due to health concerns over the pandemic,” she says.

“When the matter came to my attention, I notified my partners and we made arrangements to get them out. Unfortunately, they had already conceived,” adds Vivian.

RTK reported the matter to the local police station for action.

“We reported the matter to the police but the suspects fled when they heard that officers were looking for them. Unfortunately the girls were living with these men in town and hence did not know the suspects’ rural homes,” she says. It has so far proved difficult to trace their current whereabouts.

RTK contacted the administration in the institution where the young mothers are set to resume their studies and secured permission for a small nursing station.

“We have made arrangements with the school to create a nursing room for them to breastfeed and take care of their babies while we continue counseling them. We hope to see them resume their studies next term,” says Ms Moindi.

As a career coach and parent, Vivian understands the challenge faced by teens from poverty-stricken backgrounds.

RTK has so far reached over 1,000 girls with sanitary pad donations and 300 boys with boxers.

She is a strong believer in communication as a tool for improved academic performance and higher moral standards in learners.

Vivian is making strides towards her dreams.

“I plan to set up a teen enterprise hub to support both girls and boys. I am also working on a project to make reusable sanitary towels. This will help create employment and sustain our pad donation cycle, which is mostly dependent on well-wishers” she said.


Ms Moindi joins Mongoni Boys Secondary students for a photo after an awareness session at the institution. 150 learners got vital reproductive health counselling, life skills advice and underwear. PHOTO/Courtesy.
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