Saturday, May 4, 2013

FIDA’s work on Ending Gender Based Violence in Kenya: Challenges and Prospects

On March 21, 2013, Gender minister Naomi Shaban addresses the sexual violence issues in Kenya at the Commission of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York. She states that lack of comprehensive data on the magnitude of sexual violence, traditional practices, poverty and limited resources stand in the way of ending violence against women (Onyango, 2013). Women need a host of support in Kenya. One NGO that is working towards their legal rights is FIDA. FIDA-Kenya is a women lawyers’ organization established in 1985 after the UN Third World Women Conference held in Nairobi. It is the oldest women rights organization in Eastern Africa and as such is a depository of the innovations and approaches applied by the women rights movements in the region for the last two decades. Internationally, FIDA-Kenya is recognized as a foremost African actor in the area of women empowerment. During CSW 57, Teresa Carlo Omondi, the Deputy Executive Director of FIDA, reports on FIDA’s work on ending gender based violence in Kenya. She addresses both challenges and prospects. She listed the key accomplishments of FIDA Kenya in the following areas1) In 2005 FIDA Kenya spearheaded the establishment of the Family Division of the High Court. 2) FIDA Kenya was instrumental in the establishment of the National Commission on Gender and Development. 3)FIDA Kenya was involved in the development and drafting of various gender friendly laws and policies such as: The Children’s Act 2001,Sexual Offences Act 2006, Employment Act Trafficking Bill, Gender and Development Policy, The Land Policy. 4) FIDA Kenya has been identified as a model organization in the provision of legal aid and is therefore a pilot site for the Kenya National Legal Aid and Awareness Program (NALEAP). She also presented the major challenges faced by Kenyan women while seeking leadership positions. For example, there is a definite issue with the birth and/ or marital status of women and the decision to elect a woman or not. Because the political parties are male-dominated, and cost of running for elections is a burden for women. Moreover, one cannot ignore the pre and post-election violence. She pointed out that cultural traditions including social norms do not identify women as leaders. At the end she was very positive on the way to promote women’s leadership position, such as FIDA enforcement of the constitutional 2/3 gender principle. FIDA has been working closely with men on the importance of women leadership through civic education, and trying to create awareness on punitive cultural practices.
During post-panel discussion, the opportunity to ask one of the panelists Sally Muhio specifically about the “informal justice system” in Kenya, presented an interesting response. The Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA Kenya) is committed to bridge the gap between the Government and the citizenry, and in particular, the disadvantaged women (FIDAKENYA, 2013). While engaging with the Formal Justice System, FIDA Kenya has strategically put in place mechanisms to connect with indigent women at the community level. She said in most of the local communities, informal justice systems are more vibrant. For example, there is an organization called the “council for adults” where FIDA Kenya assists women to access justice through the existing channels by training the respective bodies on gender to gender related issues. This organization ensures the voices of the victims be heard before moving onto “formal” court. Furthermore, another transformative innovation that this informal justice system brings is to re-direct deserving cases to the mediation system. Unlike the formal legal system, this will access justice to the indigent woman with less social, emotional and monetary costs.  Muhio also mentioned a FIDA established Policy Walk Group that is to train and work with local police to handle victims of sexual violence.
In a second interview with Josephine Wambua-Mong , a Council member of FIDA ,she explains  how to spread legal knowledge and practice to the public. She mentioned LEGAL AWARENESS WEEK event FIDA conducted in 2012.  The objective of Legal Awareness Week is to promote the mandate of the Law Society of Kenya by extending legal literacy and awareness to members of the public. The public would also be advised on various aspects of the Law and Civic Education.  The Law Society of Kenya Branches shall also observe and coordinate their activities at branch level.

When asked what type of medical services FIDA provided to the victims of sexual violence in Kenya, Wambua-Mong said FIDA itself doesn't provide such medical services. However there are Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) services available in major hospitals in Kenya. The abbreviation PEP stands for a number of things in medicine including post-exposure prophylaxis. Unfortunately not all expenses are covered by the medical centers or hospitals. Like Dr. Omondi, another member of the panel, summarized, “Medication is the key solution we provided to the victims, no matter what kind of justice system they go through, and they have to be cured, to become sound human beings again”. One major concern is the lack of awareness of the importance of PEP and its procedures. 

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