A Light At The End of the Tunnel: Gender-based Violence and Support Systems in Kibera
Kiberans, living in the midst of both hope and hardships, look out for each other like family. This close-knit community supports one another through thick and thin, which includes when a member of the community has been violated.
The Kenyan Demographic and Household Survey report from 2014 found that 45% of women between the ages of 15 - 19 have experienced physical violence after the age of 15. This violence includes any harmful act towards the female population, including physical acts such as hitting and beating, sexual coercion, physical threats, psychological abuse, and limiting a woman's actions. Despite the gradual increase in gender-based violence across the globe due to being at home more often because of the COVID-19 pandemic, support systems within the Kiberan community continue to act as valuable resources for all those living within the 13 villages. However, more support is urgently needed.
In Kibera, Diana Odhiambo provides education to her community in order to prevent gender, GBV, and sexual-based violence: "[I walk] do to door or [have] sessions with women, men, [and] young people on GBV and I tell them about the do's and don'ts they need to know and also actions to take whenever they feel their rights are violated."
Gender-based violence, against women more specifically, may be defined as “violence that is disproportionately directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately [including] acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” Violence against women occurs in all countries and exceeds social, economic, religious, and cultural groups. In Kibera, this sort of violence may be accepted due to societal 'norms' for women.
When asked about women in the community, Diana commented that "society has made women feel they are vulnerable and they need men for survival. Like women need to be there at home if the husband is the breadwinner," Ms. Odhiambo added, elaborating that women feel as if they solely need to take on household duties, and therefore submit to all of their husband’s wishes. Diana noted that "a major recipe of GBV is poverty." Many in Kibera's 13 villages struggle to earn a living, making women dependent on their male counterparts. When the husbands leave a dollar at home, they expect a meal when they return. If the women have used it otherwise, Odhiambo explained that abusive "[husbands] will bring home [a] fight." Since similar instances occur within all 13 of the villages, women rarely move to secure their safety. Odhiambo added that "GBV has made women more vulnerable when we talk about culture and tradition; some say it's okay for the husband to beat the wife, [that] it shows the husband loves [her]." Ms. Odhiambo further explained that because of this cultural norm, "in most domestic cases the women tend to say "I can't report my husband, I just want him to be talked to."' This often results in recurrences of GBV as the cycle is uninterrrupted.
If they can't leave and often refuse to persecute their husbands, how else are these women helped?
In response to violence within the community, the medical needs of survivors are addressed first by Diana. Secondly, she insures the report of the incident to the authorities (police) who then oversee the appropriate next steps.
Diana also acts to economically empower these women. Teaching "income generating activit[ies]," Diana guides these women in introducing job opportunities as well as continuing the education of young mothers to equip them with "life skills".
Further than this initial response, Diana directs survivors towards Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), an NGO, provides shelter to women and children, aids in mental health support and the reunification of families, and advocates for equal opportunities in Kibera. By providing shelter, SHOFCO supports women and children in leaving violent environments. CREAW, another source of aid, provides legal support whilst The District children office handles cases involving children.
Diana, a light at the end of a very dark tunnel, assists victims in her community to obtain justice by empowering them to further heal themselves after experiencing harm.
Special thanks to Diana Odhiambo for her contributions and how she acts as a light in the community