If we are to address the ills of our society, the deeply entrenched norms that contribute to sexual and gender-based violence, youth-led social accountability, and multi-sectoral partnerships at the national and sub-national levels are the best way to go. During our recent visits to Samburu, West Pokot, and Bungoma counties, this was a truth underscored as we continued to implement the Generation Equality campaign in partnership with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. While this first set of in-person activities was quite intensive, the learnings we gleaned were priceless. Herein, we hope to give you a glimpse into what the current context of the tedious yet rewarding journey towards gender equality looks like, with a critical focus on sexual and gender-based violence and menstrual hygiene management.
A key feature during this extensive activity was the distribution of dignity kits to 1,200 vulnerable young girls in primary and secondary schools in all three counties. While the needs of these young girls varied due to the different contexts in these counties, it is evident that menstrual health management is still a significant challenge faced by young girls and women, particularly in rural regions. For instance, in Samburu County, the stark reality is that girls in day schools do not receive menstrual health products allocated to other public boarding schools, denying many vulnerable girls the ability to menstruate with dignity. The most significant challenge is that policy exempts these day schools from receiving government-issued sanitary towels.
In West Pokot, MHM is just one of the many challenges young girls face while pursuing their education. Harmful socio-cultural practices such as FGM/C and child marriage continue to impede the human rights of these girls, trapping generations in a vicious cycle of poverty and sexual and gender-based violence. While flagging off the distribution of the dignity kits in Bungoma County, the Director of the Gender Department affirmed that sexual and gender-based violence continues to plague the community, having an even more significant impact on young people. Due to the high poverty levels within the county, adolescent girls are often subject to transactional sex to cater to their menstrual health needs.
Fully articulating the challenges that young women and girls in these counties face proves almost impossible due to their complexity. However, we are called upon to act; intentionally and urgently to address them. This is where youth-led social accountability and multi-sectoral partnerships for gender equality come in. During a meeting with the Bungoma County Sauti Sasa Action Group, we delved into Kenya’s commitments at the GBV Action Coalition to determine what these youth advocates could prioritize alongside their county government to ensure their implementation. In West Pokot County, the Sauti Sasa Action Group is advancing gender equality efforts within the county by spearheading a research study to collect data on Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting to inform future interventions to address this scourge. The Gender Technical Working Group in Samburu County remains committed to addressing sexual and gender-based violence, and the harmful socio-cultural practices that have for so long impeded women and girls from realizing their human rights to the fullest.
Learnings from this field excursion no doubt highlight the stark reality of sexual and gender-based violence and poor MHM. However, the social accountability efforts made by youth advocates and the multi-sectoral partnerships led by the county governments in these counties offer a ray of hope in a time where the impact of the COVID-19 threatens to render progress towards gender equality obsolete. While the Generation Equality promise of a just and equitable society may often feel farfetched, the efforts above should spur us into collective action; spark discourse among generations, and deliver concrete progress on gender equality across generations for girls and women.
As we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child 2021, investment in digital inclusion is apt to amplify multi-sectoral partnerships and youth-led social accountability. This fact is even more timely, seeing as we’ve witnessed a boom in the use of digital platforms in governance processes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, young people, especially women, are now better placed to work with policymakers at the national and grassroots levels and participate in decision-making processes meaningfully. However, this poses new challenges, such as the inequality women and girls experience when accessing digital platforms compared to their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, we must intentionally address these inequalities driven by the promise of improved access to digital platforms for participation in decision-making processes, access to education, improved access to healthcare services, and increased female participation in formal labour spaces, thus reducing poverty and inequality. Indeed, aren’t we better off in a world where gender equality is a reality and not a goal? #GenerationEquality
Written by: Beatrice Nyamwenge Okech