The Other Woman

Celebrating the International Women Day

As the World celebrates the International Women’s Day, Action for Children in Conflict joins millions and millions of voiceless Women who may be may not even be aware of the celebrations are taking place across the globe. AfCiC wishes to reflect on the situation of Women in Kenya focusing on the life of an ordinary woman in Thika. However we would want to look at education, health, water and access to justice with a view of bring out the true picture of an ordinary peri-urban woman in Kenya

According to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, there exist serious gender disparities in the country. In North Eastern Province Gross Enrolment Rate for girls is 29% compared to 112% in Western Province. In Nairobi’s informal settlements only 22% of 15 to 17 year old girls were enrolled in school compared to 68% nationally and 73% in rural areas. Furthermore, in a country filled with cultural norms, girls in many communities are still seen as homemakers who do not deserve to go to school and are subject to female genital mutilation among other forms of violence. Extreme poverty and hunger continues to cripple many women in the slums and rural areas reducing possibilities for women to enjoy any opportunity that comes their way including the free primary education. With the little resources that some families have, they prefer to send their boys to school since it is believed that they are future wealth sources to their parents than the girls, as they will go on to be breadwinners.

With no information and right to negotiate safe sex, women continue to carry the burden of HIV/AIDS with millions dying for lack of essential life prolonging drugs like ARV’s and poor diet. Action for Children in Conflict through its work with communities in Central Kenya have identified a very worrying trend where elderly mothers have taken up the responsibility of taking care of their grandchildren, sometimes as many as 12 children all below 8 years, These category of women is most traumatized and burdened by HIV and AIDS, they are unable even to meet the very basic nutrition since there is never enough food in the house. Furthermore the very elderly and weak women have gone back to doing hard labor in local farms and quarries to feed the orphans. The situation is worse with younger women of reproductive health age whose inability to assert their sexual rights continue to be exploited by men and exposed health risks over and above HIV and AIDS. This includes denial of opportunity for visiting the hospital since every time they go out they have to get permission from their spouse resulting in the women missing out on existing services like family planning and other essential screening that would easily keep away diseases like cervical cancer away.

It will be acknowledged that Kenya has very good laws from the Constitution of Kenya 2010 which provides for a wide range of opportunities for protection and development of women. However the story is different when it comes to implementation, women will unlikely have the opportunity to succeed their deceased husband, have a say in the domestic budgets and in some places women will not even own property in their names. In most instances women will instantly be evicted from their matrimonial homes when their husbands die, sometimes even before the burial takes place. The most dominant areas of discrimination are concerned with laws on inheritance, sexual and gender based violence. At this point let us go through the life of Anne

Anne Akinyi is is a happy joyous 35 years old mother of seven children and a resident of Kiandutu slums in Thika forty minutes drive north of Nairobi the capital city of Kenya. Ann ‘s parents migrated to Thika almost fifty years ago when the town known then as the Birmingham of Kenya due to its very vibrant industries that not only kept the economy of Kenya thriving but also employed thousands of workers from across the East Africa region.

Well, Thika as an industrial giant in East Africa is a story of the past save for just two or three factories that keep going despite the economic meltdown. What remains to witness the good times that have since gone are empty factories, some that can be said to be dangerous since they have been left unattended including the chemicals that were being in use.

However, while the ghostly shells of factories are a worrying reminder of the past, the abandoned mothers; parents of hundreds of vulnerable children are a source of concern. As we celebrate the International Women’s Day, a thought for Ann and hundreds of women like her who live in extremely hard circumstances is in order. Life is a daily struggle to Ann, as she tries to eke a living from nothing barely getting enough to feed her children. With limited education Ann does not have access to family planning or any reproductive health education. She actually lives the day as it comes and hope for a better tomorrow, the question is will tomorrow come for Ann. At one point in her life Anne was happily married with a lot of support from her husband, extended family and friends. However the passing on of the husband from what then was referred to as a curse disease resulted in her being kicked out of the matrimonial home together with her five children, she has since gotten another two children through other associations while trying to go back to a stable family.

While Ann suffered the pain of being evicted from a home she had put together with her husband the pain of losing all the property they had jointly gotten together with the husband is very evident in her face. However the most frustrating part is when her children cannot go to school because of very basic requirements like uniforms and her children sleeping without food days on the end. In the meantime the stigma and harassment by the community because she is single, is her biggest problem and brings her down to a point of desiring to leave the world. We celebrate Ann and many other women who like her struggle through-out their lives to make a living not for themselves but for the sake of children and society. Action for Children in Conflict wishes to continue investing in the wellbeing of women like Anne, by making life more bearable through organization, trainings, linking up the women with essential services and including medical and small business development opportunities.

Global Vision

At AfCiC, we feel it is hugely important that our work is not without direction and strategy. Whilst to some extent, the work we do is as a response to the local situation; one where children from a very young age, for a whole variety of reasons, take to the street and experience physical, mental and sexual abuse, with no shelter, no love and no care; we also know that by working in a sheltered manner, directed purely by the situation we see right in front of us, we would not be able to provide best practice, we would not be able to link our work to that of other NGO’s in Kenya, in Africa and beyond, and we would not be able to look at ourselves in the context of wider needs and problems.

One focus of our work in recent years has been the Millennium Development Goals. In September 2000, “building upon a decade of major United Nations (UN) conferences and summits, world leaders came together…to adopt the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to new global partnerships to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets – with a deadline of 2015 – that have become known as the Millennium Developments Goals” (www.un.org).

The MDG’s are a set of 8 targets which range from “halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education”, and each of these targets, if met, would greatly decrease the number of children going to the streets in Thika and the surrounding towns. The issue of street children is not as easily solved as ‘halving extreme poverty’, or meeting any other of these MDG’s, but what these goals do achieve is to galvanise the strategies and efforts of continents, the countries within those continents, and the organisations and people within those countries who are in positions where they can help in their own small way. The MDG’s also help organisations like AfCiC to understand the issues facing children, their families and their communities, in a global context.

For example, MDG 2, relating to providing universal primary education for all, has had huge consequences in Kenya, and most notably for AfCiC, in Thika. Whilst not necessarily linked directly to the MDG, it has only been since January 2003 that Kenya has officially had ‘free primary education’ widely understood to be a tool to ensure that for the poorest families, finances are no longer a barrier to school entry for children. However, whilst the number of children on the street has significantly reduced because of this policy, it does not however tell the whole story. Entry into schools for children is not completely free. Parents and guardians are still required to buy at least one school uniform for the child, as well as a desk and a chair, and also books, shoes and numerous other things that a child needs to study. The financial implications of this still see many families unable, or unwilling, to pay for their children to enter school, resulting in the child going to the streets either during the day to supplement the family income, or ‘full-time’, choosing a life on the street instead of one at home where food is sometimes harder to come by than some form of abuse.

AfCiC works with many families in the local area, both those of the children we work with directly, but also families with whom our paths have crossed at some point, and whose children we would consider ‘vulnerable’, potential future street children. We run both a child and family sponsorship programme, designed to link donors and supporters directly with families in the most need. Children who benefit from the child Sponsorship programme often require boarding school education due to un-feasible home-life conditions, and families benefiting from our family sponsorship programme are often assisted with the tools to create their own Income Generating Activities (IGA’s) so that they can begin to provide for their children in the long term rather than consistently looking for short survival.

The MDG’s, however, are not our only global focus. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) forms much of the basis for our work with schools, advocacy clubs and our own legal aid programme (KCLAW), where we endeavour to empower children to claim the rights duly owed them. Again, like the MDG’s, having a written policy and a plan to achieve it does not necessarily mean that those hoping to benefit do so. The UNCRC provides a long list of rights that children are owed, but children themselves are often oblivious to these, believing that abuse and neglect are either their own fault, or if nothing else, just a normal part of growing up. In our child rights clubs which operate in nearly 10 schools in the local area, children are educated about the rights they as children have, and are encouraged to share experiences, debate solutions, and talk about issues that are very much taboo in their homes and in local culture.

Working in line with global initiatives like this both gives hope for the future, but also highlights the need to effectively translate global goals into a local context, as the issues surrounding universal primary education emphasised. Another example we see here in Thika, and more widely in Kenya, is the issue of children’s food at schools. In many countries, particularly in the west, schools provide school lunches for their children. However, in many places in Kenya, it is the role of NGO’s like AfCiC to pay for or facilitate school feeding programmes that ensure hunger is not a reason to skip school and go to the street. The objective of MDG 1 (c) is that between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people suffering from hunger should be halved, and whilst in the short term, AfCiC is able to provide a hot meal each day for hundreds of children in Thika, the situation is not sustainable and nor should it be. The sad reality of life for many children in Thika is that they get more freedom, more security and often more food whilst living on the streets than they do at home and in school, meaning that the horror of street life is not always the worst case scenario.

Local factors hugely affect how we deal with children and other stakeholders in Thika, but we are of the belief and vision that those local factors are broadly similar in other towns in Kenya, and potentially even across other African countries. In the long term, by documenting our work and slowly building up a system of best practice, we hope that not only will we be able to have a positive impact on the lives of the children, families and communities who we work with in Thika, but also creating ways in which our work can be transferred to other organisations. Likewise, we work with many other organisations in Kenya and beyond from whom we learn and transfer knowledge.

Life for all of us is full of balances. We have to be able to respond to the local situation as we have a responsibility here to meet the needs of children. However, we also have to be aware of other organisations and how they work well and not so well, and importantly, how the work we are doing is linked to global objectives to fight many of the issues that cause children to come to the street in the first place, including hunger, poverty, education provision and HIV/AIDS.

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

 

In 2012, Children Lead the Way (CLTW) conducted several interventions with an aim of addressing working children issues in Thika and the neighboring districts. Among the interventions were a series of teacher training, community sensitization forums, as well as the establishment of District Child Labour Committee. http://actionchildren.or.ke/a-new-beginning-for-working-children-in-thika/ The interventions facilitated new beginnings for children and youth engaged in hazardous working environments through support to access formal education, vocational skills training and empowerment to improve their wellbeing.

 

Just a week ago, following a referral made by a teacher in Ruiru who was a beneficiary of school teacher training in Ruiru, Martin Kuria Kamau got his chance to meet with CLTW team. Since 2007, Kuria has worked as a night guard but in 2011, he was able to join a secondary school at Kagema secondary school in Kibichoi within Ruiru whilst working as a night guard. It is at this point that he met the teacher referred to above, by virtue of the fact that he guarded the residence within which the teacher resided. The teacher was concerned that Kuria was forced to work in such conditions and attend school at the same time.

 

Kuria left his home in Gatanga in 2007 having sat for his KCPE examination (end of Kenyan Primary School) the same year. The reason for his leaving the home was that he fell out with his step-father who had married Kuria’s mother after Kuria’s biological father had died. He reported that he had relational issues with his step-father who had problems accepting him and hence forced him to run away from home.

 

During the encounter with CLTW team, Kuria expressed his desire to continue attending school. The team explored possibilities of withdrawing him from the job and enabling him to access education in a boarding school. These sentiments were shared with the Thika East Quality Assurance Education Officer who recommended St Augustine Secondary School in Gatanga, Kuria’s rural home.

 

The CLTW Project Manager visited the school together with Kuria, and they were given a warm reception by the Head teacher. He was very keen to listen to Kuria’s case and raised several questions in line with the expected behavior in school bearing in mind the young man had been earning and had his freedom. During the discussion, the Head teacher was convinced that Kuria was committed to pursue education to the best of his ability. It was also agreed that his parents were to be traced, and if possible the same day, so that holistic support could be given to Kuria.

 

Immediately after the school visit, Kuria and the CLTW staff proceeded to his home and fortunately found both parents. As the mother was busy preparing a cup of tea, the manager had a chance of talking to the father who shared information on their income as peasant farmers. The family has an acre of land where they have 200 coffee plants. Coffee in the area had been neglected since 1970s after significant falls in prices, and the family also owned a cow calf as well as some maize, though the latter was not growing well.

 

During a discussion on way forward with both parents, the parents agreed to support Kuria but declared that they may not be in a position to provide financial support. The parents agreed to go to school for the meeting with the head teacher as requested. By this time it was past office hours but the Head teacher was still waiting. The meeting was brief as the head teacher realized he knew Kuria’s step father, and it was agreed that the parents will provide support by attending parent meetings, and contributing to development and welfare funds that may be required that is below 2000 Kenya shillings. The manager was requested to ensure Kuria reports within the next two days.

 

Most of the boys and girls we work with are much younger than Kuria, but through the CLTW scheme and its community focused work, Kuria finally got his new own fresh start in life, and reported to his new school in form three. In our conversations with Kuria, he noted his step father’s drinking, and described how he often came home late at night and would step on the food in the cooking pot, demanding that more be cooked, as well as him beating his mother in the presence of the children. The problems in his family are like many others that we work with, and they prevent children and young people like Kuria from claiming their rights and opportunities in life that many of us take for granted. Sometimes, it takes intervention from outside to facilitate these opportunities, and we will be working with Kuria and his family as he progresses through school.