From newsroom to the ‘ground’ to fight sexual, gender violence
For two decades, veteran journalist Dorothy Jebet churned out features on women and girls, especially those that touched on abuse, early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She was passionate in her fight for gender equality, using the power of her pen.
Her journey to highlighting societal ills began at the now defunct Kenya Times, and continued at The Standard, the Nation, The Star and later Kass Media. She also had a stint at the European Article Numbering Company in Nairobi as a public relations officer and Femnet as the media liaison officer. At Femnet, she was tasked to amplify and give visibility to the ‘Deliver for Good’ programme funded by Women Deliver. The job was challenging, but it gave her the opportunity to delve deeper into the world of gender equality as she interacted with the gurus of gender issues. This whetted her appetite to be among those driving the women and girls’ agenda in the global south where the burden facing women is heaviest.
In 2019, Dorothy registered a Community-Based Organisation known as Elimu Kwanza Initiative (EKI), which operates from Kabarnet Town, Baringo County. The charitable organisation is actively involved in community work and engages with women, girls and boys.
Teen pregnancy, sexual abuse burden
“EKI’s core focus are the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) Three, Four and Five. Goal Three is on Universal Health and Sexual Reproductive and Health Rights. On this, we work closely with adolescents and young women on matters touching on their sexual reproductive health and rights,” she shares.
“Teenage pregnancy and HIV infections are some of the major challenges we are facing in Baringo County. This is a problem, especially in urban and peri-urban areas of the county. This is not to say that the rural areas are faring well. No. Hundreds of girls are dropping out of school because they have been put on the family way in remote villages in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) county. The major culprits who we can point a finger at for causing mayhem among school girls are the bodaboda riders. They are the ones who offer “free” rides to the girls to and from school only for them to turn to the girls to settle the free ride in kind. Other culprits are teachers and sugar daddies. Sadly, policemen are also in the list of those responsible for the early pregnancies and some are in the dock,” Dorothy reveals.
She shares how all these cases and incidents point to a spike in Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in the county since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. The stay at home orders to prevent spread of the pandemic allowed conducive environment for paedophiles to thrive.
“One such defiler known as Haron Cherono, 60, is now serving a life sentence for causing the death of his little niece, Michelle Jematia by repeatedly sexually molesting her. The poor girl died aged 10, last year after suffering fatal internal infections, which spread from her reproductive organs to her lungs and kidneys. We were glad as EKI to have been part of the larger Baringo Civil Society efforts to have the criminal receive the most severe punitive measures,” Dorothy shares.
Currently, EKI, has 11 defilement cases awaiting to be heard and concluded. “Unfortunately, we have challenges fighting SGBV in the county. Chiefs and the so-called elders are the major impediment in tackling vice. The chiefs don’t like their area of jurisdiction being highlighted for SGBV fearing they could be sacked for not doing anything when girls are sexually abused. The elders are largely conservative and strongly believe in the traditional and cultural system of patriarchy. As such, they don’t entertain anything that could threaten the balance of power and the respect on a certain family whose son or father is embroiled in SGBV case. They would rather give a blind eye to the incident or call for a meeting to discuss how to resolve the matter themselves. This habit encourages pedophiles to continue abusing children because they are sure of protection and know that they will never face the law. If the accuser pays some amount of money to the girl’s parents or a bull to the elders, the story ends there,” Dorothy reveals.
Covid-19 rolled back the gains
She further blames law enforcers, alleging that some of them take bribes to protect defilers. In some instances, some of the police officers victimise SGBV survivors. “There is a case involving a 12-year-old girl who was remanded for a week while the culprit was released under unclear circumstances. We reported these sad developments to the Ministry of Education in Nairobi and later, The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) took over and ordered the immediate release of the girl and the arrest of the suspect. That is the tragedy of SGBV cases in the county,” she laments.
Dorothy shares how cases of FGM, early marriages have spiked since Covid-19. “It is like we turned back the clock to the 1970s. Successes that had been made in combating these Siamese twins of harmful practices, have immensely been rolled back. And we are now scratching our heads on what to do to,” she says.
EKI has since joined hands with other gender champions in rescuing child brides and enrolling them back in schools “This is our joy. We have girls who had been married more than twice now pursuing their academic dreams,” she says.
The worrying cases of harmful practices and SGBV made gender champions to lobby extensively for the passage of the Sexual Gender-Based Violence Bill 2022 in the County Assembly. The Bill has since been assented to by Governor Benjamin Cheboi immediately he was sworn in. Thanks to the Bill, Baringo County now has its own tailor-made policies and legal frameworks for tackling sexual and domestic violence. The principle objective of the Bill is to provide for the promotion of public awareness on the causes and the impact of SGBV on survivors and victims’ families. It also proposes the means of prevention of SGBV and protection of those subjected to the vice.
Additionally, the organisation also donates wheelchairs and hearing aids to people with disabilities. It has been able to reach out to more than 61 such people spread around the county.