Meet Finn Okewo, a young teacher who quit her job to defend girls, women
Gender violence and attacks against women are a menace in the country with very limited resources set aside to address the issues that affect them in general.
The past couple of days have been a nightmare to parents in Kenya, more so those with girls. Within the last one week alone, approximately 10 girls have either been kidnapped, assaulted, defiled or and murdered. Some have been reported missing and are yet to be traced.
Statistics and research both locally and internationally have revealed that amid the Covid-19 pandemic, cases of gender-based violence have been on a higher rise.
In Kenya for instance, women and girls are at more risk of being assaulted or murdered by their partners and lovers than anywhere else in East Africa. This is why it is important, as a matter of crisis to address these issues putting women’s lives at risk.
Today in Kenya, just a handful of organizations are committed to the welfare and well-being of girls and women. We are still struggling to take off, and the few that are available also lack the necessary infrastructural support from relevant state agencies ( which are cash strapped) and have limited resources to cater for the same.
The story of Finn Akinyi Okewo, an alumnus of Maseno university who quit her teaching job three years ago, to organise women and girls into a worthy cause, is worth emulation. Finn, a holder of Masters degree in Education, Communications with IT also from Maseno, currently coordinates the activities of Project Forty One – a community-based organisation in Kisumu that is all about protecting and advancing the interests of women and young girls in the county.
”Biggest challenge affecting women who have been subjected to different forms of violence is the lack of support from the relevant authorities such as the police. There is also a stigma in the society where victims are viewed as lesser beings hence they opt to remain quiet and suffer in silence rather than be subjected to victimization,” the Project Forty One co-ordinator says.
According to government data, 45 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and 14 percent have experienced sexual violence. Most of these cases are not reported to the authorities because Kenya has normalized the abuse of women and is more committed to protecting perpetrators (especially if they are male) than victims.
”We are a country that protects men at all costs – even at the cost of the lives of women. We have zero regards for family unity. And even more outrageously, Kenya is obsessed with how the oppressed react, more than on the structures that exist and which birth such kinds of reaction,” she adds.
It is for these reasons that organizations such as Project 41 come into the picture to give victims the confidence to speak out as well as ensure women are protected in aspects of their lives. A question of why number Forty-One, she says their cause is not a shortsighted one and intends to go beyond Kisumu, Kenya and even reach out to other women and girls in East Africa.
”Forty One million is a good place to start in this part of Africa. We have to squad up. Women and girls in Kisumu face the same issues, as their counterparts in Nyeri, Nairobi. Or Arusha, or Kampala. If we do not join hands to fight back, we will perish.”
Last week, ODM leader Raila Odinga condemned the escalating cases of violence against women and children currently being witnessed in the country. The former Prime Minister intimated that for change to be effected, it should be a joint effort where everyone speaks out against the vice.
“Kenyans must speak out loudly against the slaughter of children and gender-based violence. These murders cannot be treated as personal or family matters. These are Kenyan matters and must be treated as such.” Raila said in a statement.
Organizations like Project 41 come in very handy in giving victims the wings to fly and speak about their challenges while ideally ensuring they are protected and could just be one of the millions of steps Kenya needs to take towards protecting its women.