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Community volunteers leading change for women in Kenya

11 April 2018

A woman stands up and introduces herself as a community activist. She organises weekly meetings with men and women from faith communities to discuss how to stop violence against women.

A motorcycle taxi driver describes how he is often the first to be called to scenes of domestic and sexual violence in his community. He brings women to hospital for treatment or to the local authorities to report the crime.

A paralegal describes how he works with women and girls to help them understand how to access justice if they have suffered violence.

A youth activist tells how she uses social media to spark conversations about violence against women.

A teacher explains how she is lobbying for more support for women to be included in the local government development plan. 

I am at a meeting in the Love and Hope Centre. This is one of the local organisations Trócaire supports under the Joint Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls Project in Nakuru, Kenya. These inspiring speakers are volunteers who act as champions of change within their communities. 

Community Champions of Change gather for a meeting in Nakuru.

Nakuru is Kenya’s fourth largest city with a population of 300,000. It is located two hour’s drive from Nairobi in the heart of one of Kenya’s most beautiful natural landscapes along the Rift Valley. Many travellers visit Nakuru to see the lake which is famous for its pink flamingos and the wildlife parks. 

But few will see the dense, fetid slums located deep within the town. Here, ten people can live in one room without access to basic sanitation or electricity. Few have regular employment or income.

Nakuru’s slums are a hotspot for gender-based violence (GBV). Rates of violence run at about 1.5 times the national average. Almost two in every three women and girls experience violence. 

During my visit, I hear many horrific stories of rape, incest and assault. The women and girls involved receive little support. The crimes are almost never reported or prosecuted. Sometimes this is due to lack of knowledge of their rights. Shame and fear prevent reporting. Often, police or magistrates are paid off by perpetrators. Many of the crimes occur within households. Survivors often have little option but to continue to live with the perpetrators. 

The scale and complexity of the problem can be overwhelming. Yet, listening to the volunteers gives hope. I am impressed by their passion and dedication. They have very little themselves but devote huge time and effort to tackling this issue which is tearing their communities apart.

We are seeing change, they say! More people are raising their voices! More women and girls are reporting! More cases are being prosecuted! But we need more resources, we need to reach more people, more areas! 

It is a slow, draining process for those on the frontline. But we have started. The activists are a testament to what can be done with determination and by working together. I look forward to seeing what the next two years of the project will bring.

United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against WomenThe Joint Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls Programme in Nakuru is funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. This is a three-year project (2017-2020) implemented by Trócaire in partnership with a unique group of Kenyan organisations (Love and Hope Centre, Legal Resources Foundation, Women’s Empowerment Link and Centre for Enhancing Democracy and Good Governance). Aiming to reach 11,000 people in eight informal settlements in Nakuru, the programme uses a holistic and complementary set of strategies to prevent GBV by empowering individual women and girls, promoting behaviour change within the community and advocating for change at government policy level.