Christine: The community worker fighting for peace and women’s rights in north-west Kenya
Christine, 30, lives in West Pokot County, north-west Kenya. She has witnessed first-hand the armed violence that has devastated the region. Today, she is one of Handicap International’s 100 peace representatives working with local communities. Every day, she raises awareness in communities and helps women to learn more about their rights. Over the last year the peace representatives, who were all elected to their role by their local community, have raised the awareness of over 10,000 people.
Christine, a Handicap Inernational peace ambassador, Kenya. | © E. Cartuyvels / Handicap International
A mother of three children, Christine works in the fields and sells vegetables at the market. Since she was a girl, she has seen communities in her region torn apart by violence.
“Armed violence is everywhere, and it hits communities very hard. The proliferation and use of illicit firearms (it is estimated over half the population have access to an illicit weapon), inter-ethnic rivalries, and competition for scarce resources mean that violence can flare up at any moment and it often ends badly.”
“Just recently some livestock breeders put their cattle out to pasture in a field belonging to a couple from another community. The situation quickly got out of hand; the owner was killed and his wife was raped. If the Handicap International community peace representatives hadn’t intervened, this incident could have led to a tribal war”, explains Christine.
“I want women to know that they have rights”
“I didn’t have to think twice about becoming a peace ambassador,” says Christine. In September 2014 she took part in an awareness session conducted by Handicap International on reducing armed violence and sexual gender based violence, and suddenly things clicked. After taking a three-day training course run by local partner, Free Pentecostal fellowship -FPFK, Christine had the skills to effectively raise awareness in her own community.
“Marriage, burials, village celebrations are all opportunities for us to discuss the impact of armed violence with villagers. We encourage dialogue and conflict resolution. I talk to the women. Many have their first child at 13. I remind them of the importance of not becoming a mother too early, and of finishing school. I try to open their eyes. No, domestic violence isn’t normal. Nor is it normal for your husband to sleep with other women. Men are more reluctant; they ask me what my problem is. But I don’t care, I want women to know they have rights!” explains Christine, her eyes sparkling.
Working for strong and stable communities
Gorrety Odhiambo, Handicap International’s Armed Violence Reduction project manager in Kenya, explains: “There’s a real problem with armed violence in north-western Kenya. Over half of the population of Trans-Nzoia County possess an illicit firearm. ‘To feel protected’, they say. But the consequences of armed violence are very serious, including loss of human life and property, population displacement, and environmental degradation. Communities are the first to suffer.”
“We want to reduce the factors that give rise to armed violence and support dialogue. Since August 2014, 100 community peace representatives, elected by their communities, have raised the awareness of more than 10,000 people, with support from Handicap International and its partners. They address the impact of violence (particularly domestic abuse and gender-based violence) and its psychological consequences. Some schools are closed for months and so the community representatives talk to young people and encourage them to use their free time positively. But we keep on reminding them that by engaging in violence, they’re delaying their country’s development.”