CBA volunteers assist efforts to empower women in Kwale County, Kenya

  • December 09, 2019

By Amilah Abd-Al-Rashid and Amélie Cournoyer

As community and legal research associates for the Supporting Inclusive Resource Development (SIRD) in East Africa project, we supported activities of the project for one month in Kwale County, Kenya. SIRD is a Global Affairs Canada-funded project implemented by the CBA, in partnership with several East African law societies.

Upon our arrival in November, we took to the field to consult with community-based organizations and local authorities to assess how the extractive sector impacts the lives of residents, and specifically of women.

In our first week, we attended a series of community events hosted by Transparency International Kenya as part of the implementation of the Mining for Sustainable Development Programme (M4SD). Community leaders were given an opportunity to engage in an open discourse with representatives from the major local mining corporation, Base Titanium, as well as the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining. Such collaborative efforts led by SIRD and M4SD are conducted with the intention of empowering those affected by resource development.

Our focus then shifted to consultations with members of community-based organizations, women’s groups, and public services. We met with several female leaders who are part of the Kwale Community Referral Pathway. This network of private and public bodies is available to help community members with matters including (but not limited to) health and children’s welfare services, land rights, and environmental concerns.

Women in Kwale are often restricted by potential social stigmatisation, division of their family and home life, and fear of the offenders themselves. Enabling female complainants is a delicate matter in a society that interweaves religion and cultural patriarchy. We had the privilege of speaking with Officer Rael Rotich, who leads the Msambweni Police Station Gender Desk. She conducts sensitization events where she explains the process of making a police report and, more importantly in the context of Kwale, how to do it in confidence.

Officer Rotich uses her best efforts to gather strong and credible evidence in situations where limited evidence is available. For example, rape complainants are often forced to wait several days for the accused to leave their residence, which limits the evidence that can be gathered at a hospital. In addition, witnesses cannot be relied on to give testimony as many are often intimidated by or fear alienation from the community. Given the nature of gender-based crimes and the cultural circumstances in Kwale, sensitization efforts are an effective way to move forward and empower women.

In our last two weeks, we supported women’s advocacy activities and gender-sensitive training to Kenyan pro-bono lawyers who provide legal aid services through mobile clinic sessions and private consultations. We also addressed how women are reclaiming their right to be compensated in land matters using the Kenyan Matrimonial Property Act and other creative legal apparatus.

Amélie Cournoyer and Amilah Abd-Al-Rashid are 2018-19 alumni of the Young Lawyers International Program, who worked at Transparency International Initiative Madagascar in Antananarivo and at the South African History Archive in Johannesburg, respectively.

Kenya-Volunteers.jpgCBA volunteers Amilah Abd-Al-Rashid (left) and Amélie Cournoyer (right) met with Officer Rael Rotich from the Msambweni Police Station Gender Desk during their SIRD work. The Gender Desk is a part of the Kwale Community Referral Pathway.