Gender champion fights to end violence against women and children

Mary, 24, is an avid gender and child protection champion in her community, situated in Ruiru, Kiambu County, Kenya.

She became inspired to fight for the rights of children, and women especially girls in her community, after going through a mentorship programme known as DREAMS that was organised by World Vision in partnership with the County Government of Kiambu.

The DREAMS program funded by – (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) program empowers vulnerable adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 with the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy choices and remain HIV-free.

The Initiative employs a variety of approaches to provide economic support to adolescent girls and young women. This includes training in financial literacy to develop a culture of saving, entrepreneurship training to provide skills to start and run small enterprise, vocational skills training for those who are eligible and provision of business start-up kits. Those who choose to attend a vocational skills training are supported in identification of internship and job opportunities.

According to statistics from the Kenya Health Demographic Survey 2022 report, the prevalence of sexual and physical violence against women in Kiambu aged between aged between 18 and 49 years is 42 percent, new HIV infections among teenagers is 22 percent while the prevalence of teenage pregnancies for women aged between 10 and 19 years is 12 percent.  This robs children off their childhood and their ability to a live to their full potential.

Thanks to the DREAMS program, Mary notes that she learnt about the adverse impacts of teenage pregnancies and violence which include spread of HIV infections, low birth weight and servere neonatal conditions. “I used to think that it was normal for children below 18 to be pregnant, because a majority of my friends got married early and got children at an early age, a lot of them as early as 16 years, I used to admire them.

But the DREAMS program has opened my eyes on child abuse and defilement, when my older boyfriend asked me to run away from home and live with him, I was excited, I did not know that it was against the law. He used to beat me every day and force me to have sex with him daily; I thought that is how a marriage is. My family did not know where I was. Now I am against early marriages, teenage pregnancies and violence,’’ she says.

Apart from becoming more knowledgeable on the inequalities that young women face and the impact of violence against women. Mary notes she was heartbroken by the stories of other young women and girls, who are living miserable lives as a result of early marriages and violence from their partners.

“Most of my friends dropped out of school. They suffered humiliation and stigma from members of their family and community, some had violent partners that almost killed them, other were infected with HIV. Because of lack of education, they are unable to get jobs to support them and their children,’’ she says.

Through her advocacy work as a gender and child protection champion, Mary is keen on ensuring that the young girls in Ruiru remain HIV free and they are empowered to be self-sufficient. She is keen on ensuring that young girls are not lured with empty promises by the men in the community, instead she urges them to remain in school and proceed to engage in technical training institutes.

During the school holidays she gathers young girls in the community at one of the community halls, to empower them and sensitize them on their rights, child protection and inequality issues that affect them, with the help of other community champions and social workers from the County Government and World Vision. She is also actively engaged with sex education to young girls in schools on ways that they can identify abuse and how they can protect themselves and stand up for themselves.

‘‘Children often feel helpless, without realizing the power that they have to fight for their rights. I always remind them of the threats they face and the channels that they can use to report issues. The County Government and World Vision have been very helpful,’’ she says. Mary urges her peers to embrace education and values that will empower them and their future generations,’’ she says.

‘‘An educated girl is an empowered girl. Through the training sessions in the vocational training centres will equip you with life skills, you will be able to be self-sufficient without depending on anyone,’’ she says.

She is among the hundreds of young girls and youth that World Vision in collaboration with the County Government of Kiambu has empowered through the DREAM, Tumikia Mtoto program.

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