Women and girls living in the poorest parts of the world are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Only a tiny minority of survivors report their cases to the police. Many are too afraid to speak out because of stigma, because they don't know their legal rights, or because they don't trust the police.
Our Not This Girl appeal, supported by UK Aid Match, is empowering local women in Kenya to support survivors of sexual violence and bring perpetrators to justice. ActionAid is training local women, so they have the knowledge, skills and confidence to support survivors through the legal process. We want to introduce the police woman and empowered paralegals, who are helping survivors of violence and sexual abuse get the support they need.
Mary, Chairperson of the Nyarongi paralegal team
Mary is a founding member of the Nyarongi Women’s Network. With the support of ActionAid, she trained as a paralegal. Now she runs Nyarongi’s paralegal division and is often called in to support on the most challenging cases.
“Most cases are gender-based violence against women and little girls, land cases and child rape,” Mary explains. “We don’t go to the police alone, as sometimes they don’t take it seriously. We mobilise a whole team of three or four paralegals to go the police station together and give the case some weight.”
“Depending on the case, we might need to go to the hospital with the survivor, or the children’s office, and then to the courts.”
As well as providing emotional, medical and legal support to survivors, the paralegals and the Nyarongi Women’s Network also raise awareness in the local community, so that survivors will come forward and tell them about abuse. As Mary explains:
“In Nyarongi, women have been taught about the network and the work we do; we want women to come to us.”
The Network also ensures that young girls in the community are aware of their rights and know who to talk to if they or their friends are subjected to violence and abuse.
“In schools they have patrons who educate girls and act as the first point of contact if something happens to them,” Mary says. “If there is a girl who has witnessed an incident and the person who has been violated cannot talk about it, another girl comes and informs us, so we can investigate.”
Viona, the paralegal and human rights defender
Viona is a paralegal in Nyarongi. Before ActionAid arrived, cases of assault were widespread in her village. “There were many cases that were kept under wraps,” Viona explains. “No one would take action against the culprits because villagers didn’t even know cases should be reported.”
Supported by ActionAid, Viona trained as a human rights defender. Like many of the paralegals, she understands the challenges facing girls in the area. Viona was orphaned when she was three years old and dropped out of school to get married at the age of 17. When her husband died only six years later, his family prevented her from accessing his lands.
Now Viona helps women and girls facing similar challenges. As Viona says:
“My own experiences are part of what motivates my paralegal activities.”
One of her success stories has been the case of a woman assaulted in a dispute over land. Viona accompanied the woman to the police station, ensured a complaint was lodged and supported her as the case progressed through court. The man who perpetrated the assault was jailed.
As well as helping bring perpetrators to justice, the training she has received has changed Viona’s life for the better. “ActionAid has helped me a lot,” she says. “I’m now fully confident of my rights.”
Bellynder, the police woman
Bellynder is a police woman at Ndhiwa police station. She is in charge of the Gender Desk, which deals with incidents of gender-based violence including rape, child rape, domestic violence and child marriage.
Bellynder works alongside ActionAid staff and volunteers — including paralegals, community workers and health workers — to combat violence against women and girls. As Bellynder describes: “You find that members of the public fear police officers, especially when they’re in uniform. Whenever there is a case they go to ActionAid and after being supported there, ActionAid come to us and we are able to assist.”
For Bellynder, this female-centred approach makes a difference:
“You find that you can sit down with a survivor and talk to them as a woman, not as a police officer, then they open up to us and tell us all that has happened.”
Since ActionAid came on board, the Gender Desk has been increasingly active. More incidents of sexual violence are being reported by the local community and more perpetrators are being held to account.
“I once had a case which involved a school girl who was raped by a boda boda rider,” Bellynder says. “We were able to take the girl to hospital for a medical check-up and provide her with counselling. The case was taken to court and the perpetrator was jailed for around five years. Now the girl is continuing her education.”
Our Not This Girl appeal
Through our Not This Girl appeal, ActionAid is training courageous women in Kenya to help survivors get justice for sexual crimes and raise awareness in their communities.
Give today and your donation will be doubled by the UK government as part of our UK Aid Match appeal. With your support, we can empower even more women to stand up for their legal rights and bring perpetrators to justice.
Photo credits: ActionAid