Leah Ambwaya is a professional evaluator working with Excelsior who is visiting and assessing a number of GlobalGiving projects in Kenya. On June 4th she visited Adolescent Girls' Legal Defense Fund. When asked what she would tell her friends about this project, Leah said: "Incredible: You need to see this!”
On the 4th of June 2009 we visited Equality Now offices in the upper market parts of Nairobi.
As we enter the office we are received by Mary, who exclaims, “you look familiar! Did I meet you in some office that deals with children?”
I quickly realize that when you are a rights activist you can not hide. So I admit. I am no longer working in the same office, but I am still working with children on issues of realizing their rights.
Apparently our host could hear the conversation form the next office. She comes out and introduces herself as Faiza Mohamed. She ushers our team into her office. She is soft spoken but portrays an “ON YOUR MARKS” stature, ready to respond, ready to move. I could only conclude that the issues that she deals with in her cause of duty demand a soldiers’ heart - ready all the time.
This office is striking in a special way, in that there are wall size hangings with messages on women and girls rights. I notice on the wall a message "stop FGM."
Faiza is so passionate about her work, she shares her experience right from inception of the organization and the journey that she has walked in advocating for the rights of women and girls in Africa. Faiza is so proud of her work that she does not dwell on the challenges that she has faced but rather how she has handled them. Words like communities, engagement, pushing, empowering dominate her speech - an indication that she appreciates partnerships.
The cases of children in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia where landmark court rulings have been made in favor of girls criss-cross her lips behind a smile of “yes we did it again!” She is truly a marathon runner who has won several gold medals in the Olympics. She says, "Court rulings are not final. We must fight for compensation for these girls, so I have gone back to court for the girl in Ethiopia to be compensated and even given a job. We can’t stop at conviction alone.”
This lady is in control of her work, she gives us a VCD to watch. “This is a documentary about all the work that we have done with GG related funds.” She give s us examples of work the organization has done in Uganda. After putting pressure on the government, a law was passed to recognize a woman as a co-owner of the family property. She says that best practices have been recorded in Marakwet, Kenya, where girls took their parents to court. Elsewhere in Narok, the body of a girl was exhumed and the parent charged with murder. In order not to destroy the community cultural fabric, community reconciliation meetings have been held in Narok. She cites the case of Tasaru, a girls' safe house in Narok which is something that can be replicated in other areas where FGM is being practiced. However she laments that although some Governments have been pressured and good laws have been passed, laws enforced in most countries have not changed the mind set, and so they are trying to focus more training for the police and paralegals.
Coalitions have been formed in program areas like Tanzania, and Uganda. In Eritrea, more focus has been put on the youth as the drivers for change. These young people have formed anti-FGM clubs in school. In Zambia, a girl who had been raped sued both the government and the teacher who had raped her. A landmark ruling again was made by the courts in favor of the girl and an award of 14,000 USD equivalents was given to the girl. In the ruling, the ministry of education was ordered to put systems for the protection of girls in schools. This case brought out the responsibility of the state very clearly in Zambia.
Mary spoke of the first case of a girl taken to the African commission in Ethiopia, but she cautions that she can not discuss the case, since it is pending before the African commission.
We inquire on the level of community partnerships, and she is upbeat about it. “For substance in our work, communities must be engaged at all levels. Formations of coalitions in most of the countries have borne a lot of positive fruit. Professionals have given their services pro-bono.” This woman believes in the strength of numbers to be able to achieve results.
After, we talk to Mary Ciuru who is the administration and Liaison officer about her role in achieving the goals of the organization. She upbeat about it, saying, “I have to understand programmes in order to link them with the funds. When my colleagues come back from the field, I must be able to understand the dynamics of community needs and link them to funds and also just to be sure that funds are being put to good use. I must understand why sometimes I have to process a travel arrangement on short notice; all these dynamics dictate that I must understand the work of programs to some level."
As I leave that office, I conclude one thing, this organization has a team of strong willed women, who will stop at nothing in the realization of women and girls rights, and they are a formidable team, they are achievers.
Mike Acton and Christine Illanes are students who traveled throughout Africa and visited a number of GlobalGiving projects. On March 19th they visited "Adolescent Girls' Legal Defense Fund." When asked what they would tell their friends about this project, Michael said “It's a good project," while Christine said "Incredible: You need to see this!"
We met with Carolina at the Equality Now Kenya office to discuss the organization and a couple of their projects in the field. The office was relaxed but full of activity. While Equality Now in Kenya understands the importance of project updates and the need to share the stories of the work they are doing in the field, the fact is that Equality Now Kenya is a branch of International Equality Now organization and much of the interaction between Equality Now and Global Giving occurs from the New York Headquarters.
Nevertheless, Equality Now Kenya is working on several projects including finding funding to assist disadvantaged women fight forced marriage, abduction, rape and mutilation. Due to the nature and location of their project as well as our compressed schedule, it was not possible to visit beneficiaries.
Equality Now is an organization that funnels funding to grassroots, community groups that others would be unable to get donations. I spoke with Caroline Murithi, a program officer with Equality Now, who told me that her concern for women started young when she noticed that tragedy always seemed to follow girls and that when bad things happened to women it was always the women’s fault according to society.
She wanted to work for an organization that helped women's groups reach their potential. She views the largest challenges to be cultural and religious resistance, as well as a lack of general political will, against women’s rights and equality in Kenya.
In July 2008, the Attorney General of Zambia filed a notice of appeal in R.M.’s case, but no brief on the grounds for appeal has been filed. The AGLDF continues to monitor this situation and will provide legal support should the government appeal move forward.
In 2008, the AGLDF’s Zambian consultant convened a coalition of Zambian organizations (the “Coalition”) working to address human rights abuses against girls and respond strategically to R.M.’s case. This experience illustrated to Coalition members the need for effective solutions to prevent other cases like R.M.’s, educate the public, provide girls with services, and empower them to claim their rights. Accordingly, the Coalition members pledged to strengthen and coordinate their efforts and created a work plan that they are in the process of implementing.
Additional progress made includes the Ministry of Education asking Equality Now/AGLDF and Coalition members to help in drafting guidelines to prevent violence against girls in school.
Our second case addresses the practice of abduction and rape to coerce marriage in Ethiopia. Typically, a girl is abducted by a group of young men and raped by the man who wants to marry her, who may be someone she knows or a total stranger, which is what happened to Woineshet Zebene Negash at age 13. Luckily, her father supported her through the ordeal, and she was not forced to stay with her abductor; but in many cases, the family consents to a marriage because a girl who has lost her virginity is socially unacceptable to another man.
In 2003, Woineshet’s rapist was convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment and his accomplices sentenced to eight years for abduction, but all were subsequently released on appeal. Woineshet further appealed to no avail and the file was closed by the Cassation Bench of the Oromia Supreme Court in December 2005. Advocacy efforts by the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), supported by an international Equality Now campaign begun in 2002, led to Ethiopia abolishing the law in 2005 that provided for exemption from punishment in cases of abduction and rape if the rapist subsequently married his victim.
The AGLDF and EWLA, continue to aid Woineshet in her pursuit of justice. In 2007, we filed a complaint with the African Commission on behalf of Woineshet arguing that the Ethiopian government’s failure to punish Woineshet’s rapist is a violation of its obligations under the African Charter. Currently, at the request of the Ethiopian government, we are negotiating an amicable settlement on Woineshet’s behalf with the Ethiopian government.
FGM in Kenya
Finally, the AGLDF is monitoring the case of a young Maasai girl who bled to death after being subjected to FGM in Kenya. The circumciser and the girl’s father were arrested and are facing manslaughter charges. This may be one of the first prosecutions of a circumciser and a parent in the Maasai community. The AGLDF retained a lawyer to help the prosecution bring a successful case (public prosecutors in Kenya are often not lawyers themselves), and we will follow the case until a judgement is rendered. It will become an AGLDF case if there is an acquittal of the parent and the circumciser because the girl indisputably died as a result of undergoing FGM, and an acquittal would show that the FGM law is not being properly implemented and enforced and the case would continue to appeal.
Potential New Cases
Equality Now is actively looking into violations of girls’ rights and potential cases for the AGLDF in the following countries:
• FGM in Mali
• Intimidation and violence in Swat, Pakistan and denial of right to education
• Incest in Yemen and incest in Pakistan
On 30 June 2008, the High Court of Zambia reached a groundbreaking decision in favor of a girl known as R.M. who was raped by her teacher at age 13. International human rights organization Equality Now has been actively involved in advocacy on behalf of R.M. The organization commends Judge Phillip Musonda for his landmark decision, which will have far-reaching implications in ensuring protection for girls from teacher rape and justice for girls who are raped by their teachers, a phenomenon not uncommon in Zambia and other countries.
In February 2006, R.M., aged 13, had requested her school papers from her teacher Edward Hakasenke. Hakasenke did not bring the papers to school despite reminders on three separate occasions, then inviting R.M. to collect the papers in his home where he raped her. R.M. was afraid to talk about the incident with anyone at first. She later developed a sexually transmitted infection as a result of the rape and needed help. She confided in two teachers who informed her aunt, who then brought the matter to the attention of the Headmaster. Hakasenke told the Headmaster that R.M. was his “girlfriend.” He later went into hiding and was subsequently detained by the police but only briefly and has not been charged with a criminal offense. At the meeting, the Headmaster told Hakasenke that he had been warned before, referring to a prior relationship with another girl in the school.
In March 2006, through her guardian (aunt), Petronella Mwamba and represented by pro bono counsel Kelvin Bwalya, R.M. filed a historic civil suit in Zambia. She called for accountability not just from the rapist but also from her school and from the Ministry of Education. R.M. claimed damages from Hakasenke for personal injury and emotional distress. She also demanded that the school be held accountable for negligence noting that the Headmaster knew that Hakasenke had a history of sexually abusing his students in the school yet had not taken steps to prevent further incidents and effectively protect the girls. R.M. had wanted her case to set a legal precedent so that girls in Zambia will have protection and girls raped by their teachers will have meaningful recourse. To this end her lawsuit called on the Ministry of Education to issue preventive guidelines.
On 30 June 2008, Judge Philip Musonda of the High Court in Lusaka issued his decision awarding R.M. damages worth K45,000,000. Calling the failure of the police to prosecute Hakasenke “a dereliction of duty,” the judge also referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a possible criminal prosecution. He further urged the Ministry of Education to set “regulations, which may stem such acts.” Expanding on the national significance of this case Faiza Jama Mohamed, Equality Now’s Africa Regional Director explained, “Although student rape by teachers is common not only in Zambia but regionally, it is still not acknowledged as an issue of wide public concern. We hope this remarkable decision will raise much needed awareness and generate action. We urge the Director of Public Prosecutions to advance a criminal case against Hakasenke. These steps would prove that the Zambian government will no longer tolerate the rape of students by their teachers.” Another noteworthy element in this decision is that it cites and incorporates the standards set in the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which Zambia ratified on 2 May 2006.
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