Recently, Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, a campaign geared towards ending violence against women and girls around the world. According to UN Women, One in three women worldwide experience gender-based violence.
During the campaign, it was clear that retrogressive cultural and religious beliefs were the main factors that slow down the fight against gender-based violence and contributed to poor sexual and reproductive health and poor maternal and child health in most counties in the northern part of Kenya.
A Network that engages men in fight against Gender-based Violence
Mr. Fredrick Nyagah is the National Founder Chairman of Men Engage Kenya Network, a local NGO that galvanizes men and boys within the area to take part in initiatives that seek to promote gender equality, help prevent gender-based violence, promote positive fatherhood and good sexual and reproductive health.
He observed that counties such as Isiolo are on the frontline addressing gender-based violence issues and poor health. He urged men in their different capacities to come together and advocate for the growth of healthy communities and a society that collectively changes its attitudes towards gender-based violence and women.
In his speech at a sensitization workshop in Isiolo County that was organized for men to discuss gender-based violence and matters health, Nyagah urged that efforts to end this violence must involve talking to men and boys as important partners in this effort and not leaving it to women who are mostly victims and survivors to deal with.
He acknowledged that most men are the perpetrators of these heinous acts and called out their non-involvement in this matter. He added that men are usually portrayed as the main custodians of cultural and societal norms so they keep making excuses for not questioning the power dynamics behind men’s actions. This further alienates women who are left to fend for themselves despite the obvious need.
Isiolo and Marsabit are among the eight counties tasked to find ways to involve men in this campaign. The Men Engage Kenya Network (MenKen) has so far trained men in 10 wards in Isiolo County to become male agents of change and they engage with men in other forums with the expectation that they will stand firm and spread the noble course.
Nyagah urged the public to call and report any case of sexual violence or gender-based violence to the toll-free line 1195. In case any teacher or religious leader is suspected to be ‘sleeping’ with young girls and impregnating them, they should be reported and action taken against them.
Negative practices are still carried out in the communities
Sheikh Abdulahi Issac, an Imam, and a male champion at Wabera ward, Isiolo County said he is seeking to educate and enlighten his family, neighbors, community and the entire country on gender-based violence and how it negatively affects an individual.
According to him, the lessons he has derived from the organization have been extremely beneficial and with that, he wants to reach out to more people in the grassroots to educate them on the effects of some of the negatives practices carried out by some communities. Female genital mutilation is still practiced in some communities and as champions and religious leaders, they will carry on with the fight to see to it that FGM is done away with.
Engage with men at every level
Involving men to take a stand is a great step, and what is even more encouraging is that men in Isiolo County have decided to confront these problems at interpersonal and societal levels by taking responsibility for change. This a wakeup call to men in other counties to emulate this initiative. Similar pieces of training should be conducted at the grassroots level in all counties to reach out to more men.
These initiatives should go beyond community intervention programmes, barazas, churches and mosques that seek to mobilize men to be involved as advocates for change. Men should speak out against these violent practices gender stereotypes that perpetuate hate and discrimination. The need for more men to add their voice in this campaign will create safe societies where women thrive without violence.