By Charles Opiyo, Christian AID Kenya
In 2017, Side by Side Kenya, with the support of Christian AID Kenya and INERELA+ Kenya, brought together faith leaders across all faiths with one mission; to address the high cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in Narok County. This was an effort to take the Side by Side gender advocacy in Kenya to the county and community level. What started as a pilot program in a small locality in the Narok County spiralled and drew the attention of faith leaders and political leadership at the county and national level.
Key religious leaders from the national level expressed enthusiasm to the tackle gender injustices at county and national levels, and to be part of the Side by Side Kenya movement. It should be clear from the onset that women and girls in Narok county continue to experience Gender-Based Violence, ranging from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to sexual harassment and assault, to forced and early marriages, to harmful customary and traditional practices. The situation is even grimmer with the county having the highest prevalence of teenage pregnancies in the country, with 40% against a national prevalence of 18%.
Side by Side through the Christian Aid partnership with INERELA+ Kenya has set the stage to challenge these gender injustices. By putting structures in place, which includes training gender justice champions within faith communities, developing a joint action plan and building partnerships between the religious leaders, the county and national government. In doing so, they have also built an advocacy momentum through faith leaders and custodians of culture at county and national levels.
The outcomes of this ground-breaking engagement by faith leaders on Gender-Based Violence were conceived during a high-level Side by Side meeting of faith leaders held on 18th April 2018. The meeting brought together faith leaders across religious divide and at national level. There was need to connect at a community level with the grassroots, where women and girls live and SGBV cases are common. The meeting brought together Her Excellency Mrs. Sarah Tunai, The First Lady, Narok County, key religious leaders from the Christian and Muslim Faiths and community leaders, the women and girls. The meeting was part of the collaborative engagements to end Sexual Gender-Based Violence in Narok County. Under the banner of a Faith Movement for Gender Justice, the First Lady, Narok County commended Side by Side Kenya, INERELA+ Kenya and Christian AID, for the good work done so far on tacking Sexual Gender-Based Violence. All the faith leaders present signed a call to action, including the First Lady. who was handed the signed call to action to take to the governor for support to the faith leaders.
There was also a procession along the major roads, into the markets and to the government offices with one message, ‘Faith leaders are against Gender based violence’. As part of the procession, an interfaith prayer session was held where different religious leaders spoke on the need for tolerance among families and further called for the respect to and upholding of the rights of girls who are most affected. Speaker after speaker emphasized the need for protection of the girl child. Going forward the County First Lady on behalf of the County government promised to provide a place and work closely with Side by Side through INERELA+ Kenya and Christian AID in establishing rescue centres in Narok County as places of refuge for survivors of SGBV. The faith leaders also promised to sustain the momentum and reach out to the most rural places of Narok County. There was also plea to Christian Aid and other well-wishers to continue supporting the Side by Side course.