Hello! We’re excited to have you on board! Before we go any further, please tell our readers something about yourself. Who is Nemo? What’s her story? Where does she come from, what does she like, dislike…does she have pets?
Nemo is a Homosapien that traverses the earth, seeking where she may be of help. Is that too technical? I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, raised in Kajiado (back when Ngong and Rongai did not have much infrastructure) and then moved around a lot because my parents were missionaries. I love sleep and food, in that order. I like animals but I do not have an animal pet because of my travel schedule, or at least my travel schedule before COVID. I have a pet cactus whose name is Sharpie, but pronounced Sharpey like Ashley Tisdale’s character in High School Musical. It’s a whole thing.
How are you currently doing? How is the COVID situation taking you, personally? Any tips you might have for the readers on how you’re coping?
I am in a constant state of flux which is quite destabilizing for a planner like me. I am anxious for this to pass, grateful to be alive and hopeful that it will change some of our systems for the better.
COVID has been a trip no one signed up for. The biggest impact it has had on me is not being able to travel to places that I support. I am not one to sit still. This might be the longest I will have been in Kenya in the last 3 years. For this to be the biggest impact in my life, I am grateful. Of course, It would be better if I were able to visit with my friends and family but we are all social distancing.
My tips would be: have a routine. Even when I work from home, I still get up and get ready at the time when I would be in the country. It helps so when I am integrating into an office, it is not a shock to my body. Take the time to catch up on sleep but also create a routine. But mostly I say, be gracious with yourself. Our brains are trying to figure out this new normal and it is OK if you are not the most productive even if you feel you have all the time in the world. Do not expect that you will function at 100% while juggling your emotions, or even worse, trying to suppress your emotions.
How did you get started in the SRHR field?
I kind of fell into it. I needed to fill some practicum hours for my M.A. in Counselling Psychology and my parents pointed me to the Gender Violence Recovery Centre as it was a walking distance from my house. I did not even know that GBV was a term. Having met the staff there and see what they were doing, I was curious and wanted to join in the program and not limit myself to the counseling room. I got hooked and stayed on for 6 months after I fulfilled my requirements as it became a passion. Working with both the medical and psychosocial support services and the primary prevention departments, their attitudes towards their work and the impact was contagious. I was also working from home at the time on a research study so I could afford to volunteer because of my flexible schedule and I had some finances.
What do you currently do?
Currently, I am working from home for CARE Canada as a member of the Rapid Response Team for CARE International. We are a team of emergency response specialists in many sectors: WASH, Health, SRHR, GBV, etc. We are on standby to be deployed anywhere in the world within 72 hours in case of an emergency (conflict, disaster, HR gap-filling). My job has always been 40% work from home and 60% travel so there was little to adapt. Right now, I am remotely supporting our 11 West African countries to pivot their GBV programs to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. It is a lot of reading, consulting with other colleagues on what they are doing and adapting to each country’s context. Kenya is blessed because we have a strong mobile phone infrastructure and mobile money exists, so I can easily talk about tele-counselling and village savings and loans associations (chamas), saving money on MPESA here, but some countries out there are struggling to even conceptualize tele-counseling.
Along your journey, what are the most striking issues you’ve seen in Kenya concerning GBV?
For me, the thing that strikes me most is the cavalier attitude our formal and informal justice systems have towards GBV. The popular byline in the GBV community is that we have strong laws and weak implementation and for me, it also is reflective in the citizens’ attitudes. Yes, there are some strong advocates out there that are consistent about their fight against GBV but it does not seem to a shared concern. Jokes and sayings that perpetuate gender inequality such as telling people to “man up!” when they are in despair or positing that a survivor did something to provoke the perpetrator is all too common. We are the ones who do not prioritize this an issue and so even teenage pregnancies are presented as a source of shame and stigma for the guardians and the girl more than it being mostly as a consequence of GBV.
Do you think we are on track as a country in terms of the fight against GBV? Where do you think we are headed?
While strides have been made, we are still very far off. I cannot compare Kenya with other countries but the proportion of monies allocated to GBV within the health and social protection budgets is inadequate. We simply are not where we need to be with the implementation of laws, reintegration of survivors, and rehabilitation of perpetrators. Right now, our numbers are climbing and we (GBV practitioners) believe it is because awareness is being raised and avenues for reporting are available, but the moral fabric of society is also crumbling at the same time. I believe that the next decade will probably be mired with the same issues at a higher scale as we rush to put money back in the economy without caring for those who contribute to the economy. I am hopeful that at least at the judiciary level, cases are being brought forth and some sound judgments are being made through the new virtual system. But for the vast majority of survivors, 90% of whom do not make it to court, the prevention and response mechanisms will continue to fall short until we can allocate sufficient resources to it.
What positive or negative changes have you seen regarding GBV over the years?
At least for my generation and those after me, consent and body autonomy is a positive conversation we are beginning to have. This is one thing the new competency-based curriculum, CBC in Kenya has done well in terms of teaching it in an age-appropriate manner. I believe that those who do not support it simply do not feel ready to have those conversations with children in their care. But assuming that children are not ready to hear about it at certain ages is to also dismiss the fact that your children play with other children who have been exposed to other things and may pass along the wrong information. On the negative side, I have felt frustrated with the new ways perpetrators are adapting to the changing environment and emerging forms of GBV. Back when I started in 2012, online grooming was just picking up, but now I am at a loss of words when it comes to some of the stories I hear and saddened because I cannot see our systems catching up with the rapidly changing forms.
What are some of the most surprising and unexpected things you’ve come across in your line of work?
I have been very surprised at some of the stories I have heard in the field, particularly the means perpetrators use to perpetuate GBV. It used to be surprising to me that community members sometimes knew what was happening, but just resigned themselves to the way it was. My most unexpected and often positive moments have been the resilience of children. Of course, trauma and psychosocial support needs to be provided but back when I was a frontline worker, I would be delighted when a child is walking normally, talking and laughing after 6 months since I had brought them into my care with severe internal damage and the initial prognosis was that the child would never fully physically recover. I also love it when I have a group of adolescents together and allow them to talk about their issues and advice each other. They have such innovative ideas like creating check-in times on their phones with just emojis or having a buddy system where they check on each other once a week in between the monthly sessions. I am basking in the reduction of stigma around mental health amongst younger generations because we have lived through our parents trying to deal with their own trauma.
What effect do you think this pandemic has had on the fight against GBV and FGM? What do you think are the main challenges that we’ll be seeing? What you suggest can be done about it?
The judiciary has already reported that we have had a 35.8% increase in sexual violence in Kenya, which is worrying. The pandemic has closed safe spaces for children e.g. schools and has also pivoted resources from GBV, FGM, SRHR to fight the pandemic. Not only in the health sector GBV mainstreaming is the best way to go now. but also with our police who are enforcing curfews. From the experience of the Ebola response, I expect to see the same trends. A rise in domestic violence as the women and girls are locked in homes with their abuser, transactional sex for food and/ or sanitary items, a rise in teenage pregnancy, FGM and early/forced marriage
- Prioritize: Sharing of referrals to DV, IPV and other GBV support services; Advocacy for DV, IPV and other GBV services as essential, lifesaving interventions; Use of guidance on GBV case management and remote GBV assessments and service delivery during COVID 19; Integration of GBV risk mitigation measures across all sectors’ programming.
- Adapt: Existing GBV specialized and risk mitigation programming to the realities of lockdown and movement restrictions; Ensure that any ongoing interventions are in line with existing standards and a “Do No Harm” approach; Include a COVID-19 and GBV perspective in all programming.
- Maintain: GBV specialist staffing; SRHR programming including clinical and psychosocial services; Support systems for staff affected by GBV; Community outreach [even remotely] regarding available GBV services and referrals; Partnerships with GBV actors and service providers; Use of social norms and Engaging Men and Boys (EMB) approaches.
What advice would you have for the average student concerning the roles he/she can play to help with the situation? What can they do?
Check yourself first. I used to be a camp counselor and the first lesson on the first night would be to examine yourself. It seems like a simple exercise but it requires constant reflection on your words and your actions and if you are part of the problem.