Meet Christine Omao, A passionate SRHR Advocate!

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Christine Omao

Earlier on this year, I met Christine Omao during a workshop by The Africa Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) -a training of trainers (ToT) for young women activists that was meant to equip them with necessary skills required for their advocacy work at the grassroots, #YoungWomenSay. I immediately fell in love with her energy, exuberance and passion for the work that she does. Christine is a woman who would easily charm you! I have been following her work and I have also met her during other different workshops;  Wait until you read what she does- That too will fascinate you!  

Christine Omao works at Dandelion Kenya since January 2015 to lead advocacy on sexual reproductive health and rights including safe abortion, at the grassroots, regional and global level. She leads mentorship programs in schools and community outreaches within Nakuru county and engages women on safe abortion advocacy. She manages Dandelion Kenyas’ strategic partnerships with Personal Initiative for Positive Empowerent (PIPE) to explore the intersections of HIV and SRHR.

At Dandelion Kenya, she is the focal point for the Kenya Adolescent and youth reproductive health and rights network which is a youth led network with 30 member organizations from all over Kenya, championing young people’s access to SRHR information and services. As a member of the network and through Dandelion Kenya, she led Nakuru young people’s input into this years Africa Union (AU) consultation meeting that outlined young people and especially young women’s needs in regards to the Demographic Dividend. The outcome fed into the January 2017 AU summit to Addis Ababa. The network has also been involved in the FP2020 consultations for young people representation.

She particularly has passion in advocacy for young women’s access to family planning and participated in empowering Africa youth through the demographic dividend dialogue in Berlin Germany. Through Dandelion Kenya, she has been involved in budget hearings and preparation of the Reproductive, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health (RMCA&H) cost implementation plan for Nakuru county. She is among the founders of the Nax4p movement, a movement of young people within Nakuru trained by DSW on family planning leveraging on social media platform such as #SRHRDialogues, spearheaded Dandelion Kenya for advocacy. In addition, Chrstine is a member of FEMNET and a champion for DSW Kenya!

Here is the interview I held with her!

Why abortion and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR)

Being a mentor to young women and girls, I would suggest that it is high time we stop burying our heads in the sand as we continue to lose our girls to issues that can be worked on. According to available statistics, children as young as 8 years are sexually active! 

A recent research by AMWIK shows that young people depend on the Internet as their first reliable source of information concerning SRHR, followed by their peers. Why can’t we be their first and trusted source of information? What are these peers telling each other? What sort of conversations are they having among themselves?

Three weeks ago , a 12 year old girl approached me and asked if its true when using a male condom you should use two to guarantee safety. I could not condemn her because she is young, clearly she is engaging in sex. I gave her the right information!
Sustainable Development Goal 3 talks about good health and well being for all. I am responsible for ensuring this goal and targets attached to it are realized. We cannot continue losing young girls and women to unsafe abortions, we cannot continue losing young people due to STIs and HIV.

These are things that can be prevented as early as now.. We just need to voice these issues out. And as a nation we shall only achieve our full potential when ours SRHR are protected.

What do you consider some of your successes?

Huh! They are so many!..

There is a girl by the name Naomi Mumbi who is now pursuing her Bachelors Degree in Michigan State University. Naomi directly links her success to our project and she also happens to be a mentor to the other girls at Dandelion Kenya.

The other success story is about a girl called Mary (not her real name) whose parents disowned for engaging with boys in the neighborhood at age 13. She was handed over to me when she was 19, and had dropped out of school. She had given up on her education. I was able to mentor her and help her go back to school. She recently joined campus and is a first year student. Am so proud of her. She is a role model to the other girls. Am proud of myself too!

What are your dreams and aspirations for young girls and women in Kenya?

I would love to see girls and women free and safe from all forms of Gender Based Violence. I wake up every day hoping to change a girls life. I take it upon myself to ensure that every girl I know of is able to achieve her dreams. I would want to see a world where girls and women can make their own choices without anyone judging them based on their gender.

Ending partriachy, achieving gender equity and equality is what gets me up from my bed every morning!

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Christine Omao, during The National Dalogue on Protection of Children Against SGBV

 

What are your future plans?

Mhhh… Giving back to my community where FGM is quite rampant (Kisii). In future I intend to move back to my rural home and work with my community to end Female Genital Mutilation, (FGM) and ensure that all girls get an education.

I will also influence policies that protect our girls from Gender Based Violence- until women achieve there Sexual Reproductive Health Rights, until women are free from all forms on GBV.

What are some of the challenges you encounter during your work?

I receive a lot of backlash from the community since my work touches on sensitive, taboo topics. Most of the time we are denied access to villages to sensitize young people on SRHR, we are viewed as bad people who want to spoil young people.

Policies by the Ministry of Education (MoE) on sex education limits our work and some program implementation because we are denied access to some schools as mentors, we are viewed as enemies of their work.

Lack of proper funding also drags our work, we have projects that cannot be implemented without sufficient funding..

 

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Surviving gang rape..

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Speaking to Rhoda* at the Bridge Centre Mukuru Kwa Njenga

“My name is Rhoda* I am 18 years old. I am an artiste. I love to rap, I do spoken word and write scripts. . My stage name is Rapper G! I live in the ghetto, Mukuru Kwa Njenga. I have dropped out of school not once,twice, after Form 1 and now Form 2 due to lack of school fees and few dicliplinary cases here and there.

Rapping and Spoken word is the only way I get to express and release my pain and heartache that has mauled me throughout my life.

My mother is a vegetable seller. My father lost his job three years ago and has been unable to get a descent job ever since. Life at home became tough. My mother was struggling to feed, shelter and school me and my three younger siblings. At 17, I departed home in search of a better future.

Unknowingly, I entered into gang life to protect myself from lots of ghetto trouble. My best male friend inside the gang further protected me from other gang members. He later on persuaded me to leave gang life for he feared for my life. He said it wasn’t just my thing and that I was wasting my life. To be safe, I had to shift places.

I decided to look for a job and turn over a new leaf. I easily got a job as a waitress at a local bar close to where I lived. Six days into my new job, my boss and his three friends drugged me and raped me the whole night, in turns..

When the drugs cleared from my system. I woke up feeling dizzy and with a throbbing headache. I was half naked, blood stained and my body pained as though I had been beaten thoroughly. I tried to get up and walk but fell down like a drunkard. I lay still, hoping that it was just one of those crazy dreams and it would soon be over.

In my hullucinations, I heard footsteps moving to my direction. I lifted my head and saw my boss. He was smiling. He ordered me to get up. He dragged me through the back door to his car and asked for the direction to my home. He drove me home and ordered me to give him my dirty, stained clothes and also asked me to take a shower. I knew I had been raped. I peed in a basin inside my bathroom. My vagina pained! I coined throughout my peeing!

I showered for like an hour while crying my heart out. I kept staring at the blood stained water as it made its way through the sewer hole. I walked out of the shower, the bastard was still standing in the middle of my tiny living room. He told me what he and his friends had done to me.. I swear if I had a gun I would have shot his brains out! He asked me to sleep and never tell anyone whatever had happened and if I did he would kill me! I fell on my sofa and pretended to sleep. When he left. I took the bloody urine. Poured in bottle and took it to a nearby hospital. I was immediately admitted. They did tests on me and gave me medication. After one day, I was discharged from the hospital and handed back to my parents who had been informed about my ordeal.

I hated being a woman. I felt dirty and unworthy! I felt guilty! That was my second worst sexual experience since I had just lost my virginity a month prior to the rape incident. Loosing my virginity was a painful experience. I hadn’t gotten over the pain yet!

To date I have never pursued justice because three six months ago, my parents and I reported the incident at a local police station and they laughed at us and told us without concrete evidence we were wasting our time.

Nonetheless , I have been receiving counseling at Wangu Kanja Foundation- a rape survivors Centre. I am really grateful for their help.

I can never heal. I hate men! I do not comprehend why the bastards did what they did to me!

With the support of DREAMs Innovation Challenge, a program by Girl Child Network, I have decided to go back to school. They too are offering psychosocial support and counseling at the Bridge Centre near my home. I feel safe with them.
In January, I shall be going back to school to perfect my spoken English and perfect my English writing skills. I love art and art is my life and my future. I have written so many pieces on Gender Based Violence especially rape.. That’s how I let it out!

I thank Girl Child Network for supporting me towards my dreams. 

And by the way, I dress this way because I feel confident. It gives me courage to walk past boys and men. They too fear me. I get stopped or cat called fewer times. I intimidate them with my look. I do not miss anything about dressing like a girl. Bull shit! Dressing like a girl only lands you in more trouble, especially here at the ghetto!’

NB: Name has been changed to conceal identity of the young girl.

Continue reading “Surviving gang rape..”

A second chance, is all I ever wanted..

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Lilian* together with her mother and her daughter.

“My name is Lilian* Am 16 years old. I am a single mother to a 5 month old baby girl. I live in Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums, Nairobi.

When I was about 8 years old, my mother moved me upcountry-Western Kenya-to live with my grand-parents for she could not afford to feed and take care of her 5 children. She distributed us to relatives and remained with only two of my siblings.

Life upcountry was not as tough as life in the city. At least we had food and most of the other basic needs. I was enrolled to a nearby primary school. I loved school and stayed focused. I made new friends and was a darling to many.

Life took a turn when my grandmother passed on. Life became tough. My 86 year old grandfather was not as hardworking and caring as my grandmother…Nevertheless, I continued with my education. I sat for my KCPE exams and garnered 300Marks emerging one of the top students in the school. I was very happy.

My dreams of joining a secondary school were trashed simply because my poor mother and alcoholic father could not afford to pay for the required school fee for Form1. I got called to some of the best schools in Western but sadly I could not go.

Poverty and misery was glaring into our eyes. I lived with so many cousins. We used to scramble for food and steal each other’s clothes. Some of my cousins had to leave since life was becoming unbearable.

At 13, I started my menses. There  was no one to buy for me sanitary towels. For two years I used old clothes and rags as pads. During heavy flow, blood would leak and stain my clothes. I would become a laughing stock to my peers. I chose to avoid school whenever I had my periods.

Being idle in the village, and having lost hope for education, I decided to get a boy who would marry me, at 15. I later on got a boyfriend-a Boda Boda rider. He was great. He bought me pads and clothes. We used to see each other quite often. He said he loved me. I loved him too. We dated for about six months without any intimacy. Then one day I agreed to have sex with him for the first time.. Little did I know that life would take another turn!

How could I have sex for the first time and get pregnant? I wondered…My boyfriend denied responsibility for the pregnancy. I got very distressed,embarrassed and scared at the same time. I did not tell anyone, but with time my protruding belly spoke for itself. When my mother heard of the news, she was very upset and wanted me to get rid of my pregnancy!

I refused and stood firm to my decision. She picked me up from the village and brought me back to Nairobi. I knew she was going to force me to abort. To my surprise, she did not! She changed her mind. Ever since she has been quite supportive.

Then on one gloomy day, while basking outside the house and enjoying the the sun rays that softly and sweetly sipped through my skin; benefiting from the natural Vitamn D, as my baby took a nap, I was approached by an organization that works to help girls who had dropped out to school due to various factors, to re-enroll back to school. They said they were called Girl Child Network . I did not believe them, I thought they were traffickers. I shared the news with my mother when she returned home from her house to house cloth washing business. She encouraged me to find out where they were. So we went to visit them to verify their legality. I was shocked to meet other girls at the cetre whose situations weren’t  different from mine.

I did not sleep that night! I was very excited! And thanked God for yet another chance at life! I immediately joined the other girls together with my baby-whom I drop at a day care at the same Centre. Life has never been the same. I was given my basic utilities plus my baby’s. We are so happy!

I have completed the six months program under the DREAMs Innovation Challenge. This coming January, I will be going back to school. I have been given a back to school starter pack and am really exited to get into a secondary school.

I always dreamt of becoming a Neurosurgeon. I believe this is the perfect opportunity to make my dreams come true! I thank Girl Child Network for their support. Because of them, I will realize my dreams..

NB: Name has been changed to conceal identity of the girl..

 

My mistakes will not define me..

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Alice* Speaking to me at the Bridge Centre, Mukuru Kwa Njenga

“My name is Alice* (Pseudo name). Iam 17 yeas old, a single mother to an eight month old baby boy. I got pregnant while in form 2.

My boyfriend disowned me plus my baby. He does not care about us.

I  am second last born of five children. I live in Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums. Life here is tough. My mother has no job. My father is a casual laborer. He makes very little money. He is therefore unable to fend for all of our needs -from food to education to shelter. 

I used to engage in sex with my two boyfriends for money. They would buy me food, clothes and pads. When I got pregnant, my boyfriend took off. My mother was quite mad at me. Her constant bickering pushed me to the wall. Were it not for my merciful father, I would be dead right now… One day I resolved to take my life away..

 I remember very well that night. I stood quietly at the banks of River Kimondo. Ready to take a dive. Something stopped me. I slouched down like a bag of maize and started crying. I looked up to God in total adoration and asked him why he brought me to this cruel world. I wondered; Why should I bring a child to this tough and unfair world. If am unable to survive, what of my unborn baby. We would be better of dead together. The stupendous array of stars that dominated the sky gave me inner peace. I lay down, to calm down, to relax my swollen eyes… I didn’t care the danger that faced me… In any case I was useless. Why fret over death?

I was awakened  by garbage collectors, the following day. Who thought I was dead.. I woke up, and cursed why I was still alive. The sun stung into my eyes. I staggered back home…feeling empty.

My attempts to abort my baby hit a dead end. The men I asked help from wanted sex in return. That meant I would have had to sleep with about 15men to raise money required for the abortion..5K!

Nine months later a baby was born. Life was even tougher. There was no money for hospital bill (5k- I was helped to birth by a traditional birth attendant). My dad really struggled to clear the bill. Still there was no food to feed the baby, no clothes for the baby. I felt really bad, I cried most nights. My baby cried and I cried along with him. It was a pathetic scene.

I thank the DREAMs Innvation Challenge  Project by Girl Child Network. They accepted me plus my child. They have shown me unconditional love. They have provided for my baby’s essential needs, especially diapers. And most importantly, they have given me a second chance to life. I am through with the six month refresher program. Come January, I will be enrolling back to school. My dad is willing to pay half of the tuition money, while DREAMs project will pay the rest. In addition DREAMs has given me a back to school starter pack containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, shoes, pads, panties, soap, a towel, books, pens, shoe polish and a brush. 

I am glad I can now pursue my dream of becoming a Human Rifhts Defender. In the slums, girls are mistreated and are also quite vulnerable . In future I will fight for their rights tooth and nail. For now I can only watch when am called names; prostitute, ugly, second hand, useless, fat girl! So many names that lay heavy in my heart.. I am slowly developing a thick skin..”

 

NB: Name changed to conceal the identity of the girl

 

 

I have never healed

Pru's Notebook

I met her at a meeting in Nairobi in 2015, she is bubbly, we stayed in touch through Facebook. When I called out to elite women to share their stories of victory against abuse, she inboxed me admitting that she was not sure whether she had really overcome, I told her to share anyway. She had written something about her experience but never had the guts to share it really and all I needed to do was to review.

Fresh at the university, I met James in March 2011 through my cousin Denis. I was a virgin that knew neither trust nor love.

My trust was leaning on the fact that Denis and I were close.  I held onto the old adage that “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are” besides my physical eye, I could not see beyond the man that I was attracted…

View original post 731 more words

Reflecting upon this years’ #16DaysOfActivism (Kenya)

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Ruth Kilimo(left), Natalie Robi (Centre) and Lynn Njoki (right)- Amazing young women, Founders of grassroots organizations-dedicated to serving girls-catching up during a health break at the #Women4Women forum

Despite the recent political environment in Kenya, (The general election, the Supreme Court nullification of presidential election and another fresh presidential election and then the swearing in of the President with sporadic tension in between the events) we managed to pull a meritorious 16 days of activism!

I must say this years theme ‘Leave no one behind’ was just it! Leaving no one behind is universal of the core effective implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. It actually ensures that every citizen in every corner of every community is included in the implementation of the 17 Global goals. It has set the pace and traction to all global, regional and national platforms in achievement of the set out indicators.

I observed and partly engaged in the various activities that took place in Kenya. Individuals, communities, civil societies, development partners all stood up to the call of ‘leaving no one behind’. When you hear of Elders in Laikipia lifting a curse on girls and men they had pronounced bad omen upon for defying FGM, when you hear of female circumcisers declaring that they have stopped performing FGM, when you hear children breaking the silence on Gender Based Violence, what does that tell you?  It actually affirms everyone’s committment to ending violence against girls and women and that we are drawing nigh to a country free from Gender Based Violence (GBV)

As a member of FEMNET, I got invitations to take part in some of the various activities that took place in the country including the Silent Protest-organized by Equality Now, the (Nganya-Safe) safe Matatu campaign (a collaboration between The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and Equality Now), a wonderful campaign that sought to end sexual harassment in public transport vehicles as well as sensitize users on reporting such incidents.

I also participated in the #Women4women consultative forum in Naivasha on 9th of Dec, a day before the International Human Rights Day. Another amazing collaboration between Kenya Women Judges Association (KWJA), Kenya Women  Medical Association (KWMA) and UNFPA, that provides for a platform meant to contribute directly to improving health and well being of women and girls through enhancement of policy and service delivery. This platform will undertake strategic interventions to empower girls and keep its duty bearers focused on delivering results and improvement in the health well being of girls and women in Kenya.

They say save the best for last! Well, am mentioning this particular activity last because of the emotional roller-coaster I went through while partaking it-The National Dialogue on the Protection of Children Against Sexual and Gender Based Violenceto End  SGBV among children. The event was specifically dedicated to children school-going age. It was a thought provoking and bewildering session when teenage girls asked deep questions that came deep within their hearts.

Here are some of the questions I picked up.

  • Whom do I turn to when violated (my mother, my father-(the perpetrator) my teacher do not believe me)
  • Where do I run to, for I do not have any other place to go?
  • Why do I have to go through sexual abuse? Have I wronged anyone?
  • For how long should I wait to get justice?
  • What to I do when my teacher asks for sex from me in order to pass exams?

They discouraged the idea of solving sexual abuse cases under a tree, settling cases as ordinary family issues for they bear the ultimate physical, social, psychological and economic burden. They demanded for full implementation of the law against their abusers.

Nevertheless, The Nairobi Women Rep Hon. Esther Pasaris was also at the event. She signed up her commitment-promising to work with everyone in the fight to end GBV. Her commitment number one being that she will dedicate a huge chunk of her budget to setting up safe houses within the county -since most of the children especially girls do not have a place to go when running away from their abusers.

Similarly, council of elders, religious leaders, government bodies all committed to fully concerting efforts towards elimination of SGBV.

According to Gender Violence and Recovery Centre, (GVRC) the youngest girl to have undergone sexual abuse is 1 month the oldest being 105 years. The hospital averagely receives about 20 cases of rape, defilement and sodomy every day! Shocking statics indeed!

A separate report from the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) indicates that the Government loses 44percent of its total GDP in handling GBV treatment. This is a cost we can no longer ignore.

Lets us not relent. More work needs to be done!

Anita Nderu Advocates for Safe PSV Rides in Kenya

 

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An Embassa Sacco Bus plastered with a sticker displaying a hotline number

(40beba! 40bebaWa haraka beba, wa haraka ingia!

Wawili wa Embakasi , wa haraka twende!) Touts calling out.
Continuous hooting, engine roaring, dust and exhaust fumes flaring as busy pedestrians dart in between the reckless vehicles.

Careful! warns a pedestrian next to me as a Boda Boda operator narrowly misses smashing through me in lightening speed!

Well, these are some of the sounds and scenes we encountered on the 12th day of the #16DaysOfActivism as we launched a campaign to end sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) within public transport vehicles in Kenya- at Nairobi’s Accra Rd.

While chit-chatting with the public present at the Embassava Bus Terminus, it emerged that it is a common trend and that almost every female has experienced some form of violence-Be it Physical, verbal or sexual abuse- while using public transport vehicles in Nairobi and other cities across the country.

In November this year, a matatu driver raped two passengers in separate attacks in Nakuru,including a 15 year old girl. In a separate recent incident that took place in Molo, a driver ‘regularly raped his passengers’. These are just few of the the many cases in which women and girls have been sexually assaulted while using public transport vehicles. Apparently, many  other incidents go unreported because again Kenya does not have a database dedicated to dealing with instances of SGBV on public transport meaning victims do not get assistance as they ought to!

It is for this reason that Equality Now, The National Safety and Transport Authority (NTSA) together with a number of Civil society organizations (FEMNET,FIDA-Kenya, KELIN, FLONE) launched a campaign dubbed ‘Nyanga Safe’ (Safe Matatu for women and girls).

The meritorious campaign launched on 6th December 2017 was meant to raise awareness about sexual gender based violence in public vehicles and encourage women and girls to speak out. The campaign was also meant to push for severe action available in the law to those found culpable.

Similarly a hotline (0709932000) and a google play store App by NTSA dedicated to handling such offenses was also availed to passengers.

Addressing the media, Equality Nows’ Office Director Faiza Mohamed urged women and girls across Kenya to be aware that they have support of the relevant institutions including NTSA. She encouraged them to speak up and speak out against the shameless perpetrators. She further acknowledged that the partnerniship will in the long run birth a special gender desk at police station which will be dedicated to handling cases of Gender Based Violence in PSVs.

Also present at the event was a renown TV and Radio personality, Anita Nderu. Anita is one among the thousands of girls and women who have experienced sexual assault while riding in the public service vehicles.

In unflinching courage, Anita, impeccably dressed strutted from her workplace at Lonrho House, Capital FM to Accra Rd (Down town) to speak to public service operators and the general public as well as share her story with the media at the press briefing and take part in the great campaign.

Anita’s Experience;

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Anita Nderu displaying a sticker with a message against lexical harassment in PSVs

‘ My boob was groped while traveling in a bus’ Said the 27 year old Anita.

Tears crept in her eyes…. she paused for seconds, and finally gathered courage and continued narrating her ordeal. ‘The man did not stop! In fact when I confronted him he said we have boobs so that we can be touched!’ To her dismay, when she informed the conductor, he senselessly said to her that there is nothing he could do!

Anita who has shared her story on wider platforms such as BBC called out on women to courageously speak out about violence in public spaces because by keeping quiet they are empowering the perpetrators.
The Hope

“The existence of Public Transport Saccos has been a major step in managing discipline among Matatu operators.” Said Mr. Hared Hassan, Deputy Director Head and Enforcement NTSA. Speaking to the media, Mr. Hassan pointed out that while there is a code of conduct guiding Matatu operators,his department is committed to ensuring that there is safety in public transport vehicles and that passengers are respected. He additionally called for tougher disciplinary measures for anyone that would be found violating girls and women.

In June this year, a pump attendant, a driver and his conductor were sentenced to 25 years each for sexually assaulting their female passenger. The conviction was celebrated by the public who saw the verdict as ‘a strong message to those with similar manners’

While there exist various challenges towards achieving a society free from Sexual and Gender Based Violence, such commitment by various key institutions indeed give hope to a better society in the near future