FIGHTING AGAINST Sexual Gender Based Violence (SBGV) comes with hidden scars that many women who get involved have to live with. These scars affect them physically and psychologically. Leah Obanda, 52, a voluntary Community Social Worker (CSW) working in one of Nairobi’s densely populated “suburbs” of Kasarani shares her journey of fighting for victims of SGBV and how she lost her job after she refused sexual favours from her boss.
To add insult to injury, her husband of many years allegedly deserted her while seven months pregnant with other three children. Despite Kenya having enacted sexual offences law (Sexual Offences Act 2006) in place, cases of sexual gender based violence have of late been on sharp rise and in the process compounding matters for volunteers like Leah who have dedicated their efforts in fighting for the voiceless in Kenya’s informal settlement. Tujipange KE interviewed her on her tireless efforts on fighting against SGBV.
Tujipange KE: When did you start working on GBV issues and where do you operate from.
Leah: I started working as a voluntary community social worker back in 2012 in Embakasi district, Nairobi. Many of the residents in this area live in informal settlements that record high cases of sexual violations.
Tujipange: What is the state of GBV from the areas you work?
Leah: We already have many cases of GBV. However, tens of news cases are also coming up on daily basis. In this area, there are many slum dwellers that involve a lot of gang rape.
Tujipange KE: What kind of experiences have you encountered in your mission to fight against sexual gender based violence?
Leah: It has not been easy, there is not much support. It is very hard to work with survivors of SGBV due to lack of funds. When you get a survivor, you need to take them for treatment and facilities are very far and those within are private and don’t offer free services. At times we get three survivors in a day. By the time you get the survivor to a facility sometimes it is too late.
Tujipange KE: What are the challenges you face on your pursuit to have GBV survivors get justice?
Leah: It happens many times because not everybody is your friend, you are seeking justice and here is someone who will be jailed. I have been beaten many times, have been slapped and abused. I have been a victim too, I lost my job when I refused sexual favours from my boss and my husband deserted me with four children. There was an incident when we rescued a 16-year-old girl with mental challenges, she was being defiled by three people. The people, a military guy, a physiotherapist and a university student, who were defiling her and made her pregnant tried to block justice. I was attacked and stabbed on the chest and stomach and had to stay in hospital for three months. I pursued the case until a DNA was done and the culprit was found, but later on the father of the baby made the baby to be poisoned and died. He later died in prison. We later found out that the mother of the victim was using her to get money from the men who sexually abused her daughter. We became her enemies too.
Tujipange KE: Talking about SGBV, how do you handle the cases.
Leah: Most of the cases come from the community, they report to me first, after which we take them to hospital and report to the police and get a booking and look for a Probing lawyer with help of paralegals. When the victim is going through the process we take them to safe houses where they are housed as the case continues depending on the nature of the case and as along as the case is still on going.
Tujipange KE: How is the justice system and forensic evidence?
Leah: We have challenges in this area as most people do not know how to handle evidence and also the law enforcers at times get compromised leading to the loss of the evidence. Some cases take too long but we soldier on. Another challenge is the transfer of police officers who have been trained on SGBV issues. When they get transferred we are pulled back because we have to identify another officer to be trained again and this consumes time.
Tujipange KE: How many cases have you pursued since 2012?
Leah: So far, I can talk of ten cases. There are two still in court, three perpetrators who were arrested and put in jail while young and we visit them because they are part of the community. The rest cases are still on going. We are planning to have a program of survivors and perpetrators
Tujipange KE: How often are cases reported to you and which age group are mostly affected.
Leah: Most of cases are not reported you just come to learn of them later after the victim is either pregnant or was infected with STIs. Some are reported but it is still a struggle. The most affected age group is of the age between nine – seventeen who are always experimenting and sexual violations are common among them.
Tujipange KE: How does your family take the kind of job you do being a risky one.
Leah: You see l am taking so much of my time with kind of work. My family is not happy about it because most of the time they see me stressed. At times I get so traumatised and have no one to run to. My phone is constantly ringing, survivors calling and asking for help. My happiness comes when a survivor is able to get justice and move on with life. Many of the survivors I have worked with will always come back to me when they get opportunities to help others.
Tujipange KE: Your parting shot?
Leah: It is not easy working with SGBV survivors. This is a genuine calling.
16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM 2017
16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.
The theme of the 2017 Campaign is “Together We Can End GBV in Education!” This year’s theme builds on the momentum and achievements during the 2016 campaign, when over 700 organizations in 92 countries campaigned around the theme of “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All!” Our goal for 2017 is to continue to build awareness of and advocate for an end to all forms of gender-based violence in education once and for all.