More Than A Day.
Right before I got into the NGO world I tried to talk to as many people I knew in that space to get a heads-up on what to expect. I was just about to launch my initiative, Adelle Onyango Initiative and I really wanted it to run efficient, impactful programs. My organization works in the youth space and also connects women who have survived rape to our free group therapy program, Safe24/7.
Back to the conversations I was having. Loads of people I spoke to said that my organization would have to celebrate key days related to our area of work. I was encouraged to run social media campaigns on this day. Reason being, potential donors like visibility. So when I launched the initiative, I’d celebrate Youth Day, International Day Of The Girl, Women’s Day, 16 Days Of Activism and of course International Day Of The Elimination Of Violence Against Women.
On these days, many top organizations run huge campaigns with catchy artwork, videos and of course, a hashtag. Most say their aim is to “amplify” the issues and the work their organizations do, in a way that attracts partnerships and perhaps even donors. This is something that even organizations with big budgets still do. Amplify. With time I started wondering what that word does for survivors of sexual violence, survivors of rape, survivors like me. It meant absolutely nothing.
I wondered why these days couldn’t be used to fundraise, to hold institutions accountable or offer interventions to survivors at no cost. I wondered why the biggest organizations and even governments, would limit themselves to hashtags and fancy GIFs whilst they could afford to make tangible changes that would impact survivors. The more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that issues such as violence against women don’t take a break on the 25th of November. As a survivor myself, my healing from rape plagues me all year round.
This year I have found myself immersed in many projects aimed at ending sexual violence. I will highlight two. The first is writing about my own experience healing from rape, for a book I’m co-authoring. It not only features my story but stories of survivors from 1902 to date. It’s the most extensive work around survivors of sexual violence in our region and will be out in March 2021 (of course Lwile will share that exciting news then, she’s my greatest support).
Writing for the book both broke me and rebuilt me because I had to revisit dark parts of my healing. Parts that I have probably only shared with my therapist but I wanted survivors to draw fuel for their own healing from my chapters. I also wanted everyone else to know how difficult it is to heal from the injury of rape.
I was also involved in projects that included recording accounts by survivors, giving them resources for tele-counseling, shelters, legal services and relief funds. The stories have broken me and made me wonder if we have really made any progress in ending violence against women. The increase in these cases during the pandemic have also been heartbreaking. 3 weeks into our partial lockdown in March, there was a tripling in the cases of sexual violence that were reported. We all know reported cases account for a smaller percentage of cases as many go unreported. Which really scares me as it means many more women are stuck with their abusers due to the varying degrees of lockdown we’ve gone through. There was also a 55% increment in the national GBV helpline (1195).
What tore me apart was learning (through this project) that Kenya only has ONE shelter for women that is fully run by the government. It is in Makueni County and was launched recently under the insistence of their governor, Kivutha Kibwana. All other shelters for women are run by NGOs or other organizations in the private sector.
Upon hearing this, it was apparent to me that this country hates its women. That by virtue of having just one shelter, they too are being violent to women. However, on days such as this, you can be sure there will be parts of this government promising to do better by women. They will make this announcement on social media. They will have a hashtag that they will pay influencers to “trend”. But on November 26th it will be over for them but the effects of violence experienced by women will not be over as it lasts more than a day.
So to women who have survived violence, here are some resources to help:
To get free tele-counseling, legal services, access to shelters and other vital referrals call this toll-free number that is run by CREAW Kenya: 0800 720 186
There is also an SMS line and app run by Wangu Kanja Foundation, where you can report cases of abuse and ask for help. The app is SV_casestudy and is available on google playstore. The SMS line is 21094
My promise to survivors, is that you will be at the core of my fight, thoughts and drive, even after this one day.