Changing the conversation about rape and sexual assault | ActionAid UK

Wangu Kanja

Women's rights activist, Kenya

Today, ActionAid UK launches the Not This Girl appeal to keep girls safe from sexual exploitation and abuse. The appeal will support the amazing women’s networks who help survivors of violence get access to justice, and stand together to say: 'No girl should live in fear. Not this girl. Not any girl.'

The campaign is supported by UK Aid Match, which means that until 7 June every donation you make will be matched pound for pound by the UK government. Read on to find out why girls in Kenya need our help so urgently, and how a donation from you could change their lives and the lives of other vulnerable girls around the world.

Wangu Kanja, kenya
Me, standing outside our Wangu Kanja Foundation office in Mukuru slum, Nairobi, Kenya

One in three women worldwide will be beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime, most likely by someone they know. I am one of them.

In 2002, I was car-jacked, raped and robbed. When I went to the Kenyan police, they recorded the crime as robbery with violence. They did not include rape. They did not see sexual violence against my body as a crime.

To end violence, women and girls must have ownership of their own bodies. ‘My body is mine’ is an important message for everyone. 

Because I didn’t have support, I ended up going into depression for two and a half years and used alcohol as a coping mechanism. You have to have people supporting you and confront the issue. If you don’t, it destroys you.

Eventually, I went to counselling, and that’s when I decided to use my experience to help other women going through the same thing.

So, in 2005 I founded the Wangu Kanja Foundation, now a partner of ActionAid, which helps survivors of sexual violence access medical, psychological and legal support, through an innovative SMS helpline, staffed by trained volunteers.

Nairobi SMS Platform (Wangu Kanja Foundation)

The problems facing women and girls in Kenya

A third of girls in Kenya experience sexual violence during childhood – of these, just 10% receive any professional help. In many cases extreme poverty is making women and girls even more vulnerable. Without money to pay for practical things like travel to the hospital and legal fees, it’s hard for them to get help and justice. 

Three badly affected areas in Kenya are Kilifi, Nyarongi and Mukuru slum — where the Wangu Kanja Foundation is based.

  • In Kilifi, southern Kenya, rape and child marriage are common. Girls’ bodies are often seen as the property of men, for them to exploit and control. Many girls drop out of school due to being forced to marry while they’re still children, and becoming mothers as a result.
  • Nyarongi is one of Kenya’s poorest regions and one in four children living here is HIV-positive. AIDS has wiped out whole generations, often leaving young girls to raise their siblings. 
  • Mukuru slum in Nairobi, has some of the highest rates of violence against women and girls in Kenya. Women and girls living there are subjected to rape, sexual assault and regular beatings. A tiny minority of survivors report cases to the police, because of stigma, not knowing their legal rights and lack of faith in the police force. As I experienced, the police don’t take cases seriously.

Lucy, 4, - Mary's sister.  Mukuru, Nairobi

Positive solutions helping end the cycle of violence

Working through local partners like the Wangu Kanja Foundation, ActionAid works with communities to start — and change — conversations about rape and sexual assault, to prevent and respond to violence against girls and create long-term change. They do this in a number of ways:

  • ActionAid front-line staff work across the whole community to protect girls from sexual abuse and help get justice for sexual crimes.
  • Local women’s groups are strong advocates against all forms of violence. ActionAid supports these groups to recognise the signs of violence and report it, help girls get back to school, and raise awareness across the community.
  • ActionAid is setting up girls’ clubs throughout Kenya, with the support of local women’s groups, which provide safe spaces for girls to share their experiences, learn about their rights and build the confidence to report violence and abuse.
  • Local women’s groups help set up community forums with religious leaders, parents, children, women and men, and build support with the police, paralegals, and children’s departments.
  • ActionAid supports income-generating schemes so that women and girls can afford life’s necessities without being exploited.

Womens Network, group photo, Sauti Ya Wanawake Magarini Women's Network,  Kilifi County.

Make a donation today

In Kenya, when you go through rape people look at you differently. They keep asking you why you’re making a fuss — they say, ‘it’s just sex’ and they don’t understand how it takes your dignity away. It takes a lot of resources, time and support from family, friends, and the society and the community for that person to feel whole again.

By making a regular donation to ActionAid, you can support positive long-term solutions such as our SMS helpline, women’s groups, girls’ clubs and female police officers – all of which help keep girls safe from sexual exploitation and abuse.

The campaign is supported by UK Aid Match, so if you give today your donation will be doubled by the UK government, helping us support even more girls. Please make a donation today. No girl should live in fear.

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