Feature on Gender Violence in Kenya Prompts Funding Opportunities from US, Canada

by Zeina Najjar
Monday, 26 June 2017 18:22 GMT

Mariam Mohammed and her six-month old son sit in front of their hut on the outskirts of Wajir town, June 8, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Zoe Tabary

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A powerful feature by the Thomson Reuters Foundation titled Hotline, 'gender champions'  tackle violence against girls in drought-hit Kenya prompted two funding opportunities from readers in the United States and Canada.

According to the article, published on June 21, "Mariam Mohammed was 15 when her uncle raped her in the family hut in Wajir, northeastern Kenya.

"He told me to make the bed, he gripped my throat so I couldn't scream, and then he hurt me," she recalled, nervously drawing in the red sand with a twig while cradling a baby boy.

Her mother found out about her ordeal when it became too difficult to hide her pregnancy. She immediately informed the village elders in their pastoralist community.

"But they did nothing, and suggested Mariam just marry her uncle," Fatouma Mohammed, her mother, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, her eyes full of anger. "So I decided to leave and take my children back to my mother's."

Mariam's story is far from uncommon in this Kenyan region bordering Somalia, home to many ethnic Somali families. Girls from pastoralist communities often must watch animals instead of going to school, and walk long distances to fetch water – making them an easy target for abusers.

Prolonged drought is making matters worse, development workers in the area say.

"Somali pastoralists are extremely proud. If they lose their animals, they are no one," said Suli Abdi Buhad, the gender team leader at Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid agency.

"That leaves them unoccupied, even depressed, and can turn many into violent men," she said.

Abdi Buhad is part of a group of women and men – drawn from community members, police officers, journalists, health workers, and non-governmental organisations, among others – who last year set up a gender support desk and hotline in Wajir for victims of violence.

Once a girl calls the toll-free number, the group alerts a local colleague or police officer, who investigates the accusation while providing the victim with moral and medical support.

If the allegation is found to be substantiated and the victim is willing to come forward, the gender desk helps her bring the case to court.

The initiative, which is part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme, is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and led by Mercy Corps."

A U.S. blogger contacted Zoe Tabary, author of the article, via Twitter to offer to pay for the paternity test required by Mariam to prove the identity of her rapist and bring her case to court.

Grand Challenge Canada, a Toronto-based innovation fund, also contacted the Thomson Reuters Foundation to share an opportunity for funding, which is much-needed by the initiative to lobby the government for change and build a shelter for victims of sexual violence.

For more under-reported news, visit www.news.trust.org.