From gang rape to friend who never was: Survivors of gender violence speak up

Gender violence survivors

Maggie shares her story with Africa Youth Trust programme officer Teresa Monchari in Mukuru kwa Njenga.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Four women and a teenager living in Nairobi share their stories of surviving gender-based violence.

The annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, aiming to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls kicked off yesterday.

This year’s theme is UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls. The campaign urges citizens to share their actions towards ending violence against women and girls, and governments worldwide to invest in gender-based violence prevention.

Four women and one teenager living in Mukuru kwa Njenga and Mukuru kwa Reuben slums in Eastlands, Nairobi share their stories of surviving gender-based violence (GBV).

Cecilia: Six men gang raped me during the 2007 elections campaign period

I used to work as a casual labourer for a cloth manufacturing company here in Nairobi. One evening in 2007 during the campaign period, I was coming home from work when I was ambushed by six men. They asked me which party I supported but I could not answer.

The next thing I knew, the men ripped my clothes and took turns sexually assaulting me. I did not know where to report or how to seek justice. I had a boyfriend with whom we had a come-we-stay arrangement, and when I got home, he accused me of knowing the perpetrators and consenting to sex with them. He kicked me out while I was still bleeding.

A neighbour took me to a clinic after a few days. Three months later I learned that I was pregnant. My first thought was abortion but after a conversation with my mother, she dissuaded me. When my daughter was born, she was my lookalike and that was comforting.

All through, I thought I had gotten better but three years later, I felt intense hatred for my daughter. I planned to stand on the railway line while holding her and get run over. But on the evening that I had intended to do it, I met a woman who saved me.

She took me to a CBO where I was enrolled into counselling sessions. I would cry a lot during those sessions. When I met other survivors of sexual assault, I began to feel that I was not alone and was encouraged to keep going. The organisation also gave us seed capital to run a business; selling charcoal and detergents.

Unfortunately, with the evictions of Mukuru kwa Njenga last year, our group was severely affected. My life is harder now but I take it a day at a time. I was lucky to find a widower who loves me and my daughter.

Judith*: A man who was supposedly my best friend defiled me

Since I was born, I have never felt my father’s love. He is a harsh man who sometimes says the most hurtful things. When I completed Class Eight, he decided not to pay my school fees but I was very desperate because I love studying.

My mother is a casual labourer and her earnings are not guaranteed. When I talked to my friends they suggested I get a boyfriend, which I did. That was last year when I was 16 years old. At first, he was very friendly and he would help me purchase some things I needed for school.

In my naivety, I thought the 22-year-old was heaven-sent to save me from my troubles. The attention was also something I had craved for a long time. When I ended up pregnant, I thought about procuring an abortion because I wanted to go back to school.

My mother pleaded with me not to, but I felt very guilty that I had added to her burdens. I ran away from home for a whole month to the man’s house but my mother found me. The man was arrested for defiling and impregnating an under-age girl.

The case is still ongoing. Upon returning home, I was very ashamed and did not leave the house for a long time. I was able to go back to school but dropped out in Form Two because I often lacked school fees.

My father said he was glad he had not paid my high school fees since I had ended up pregnant anyway. I lost many friends and was in seclusion until I met a social worker who helped me undergo counselling.

I am rebuilding my confidence but I have fears about my future. I want to go back to school but seeing my mum’s struggle, perhaps a beauty course would help us more since I will be able to earn a living.

Mutio: My ex-husband beat me for 26 years

For 26 years, I endured domestic violence at the hands of my husband. The beatings were on and off. In the beginning, I would involve his siblings and other family members who would mediate and ask me to continue with the relationship.

But over the years, it got progressively worse since he was an alcoholic. I would then report to the chief but nothing ever happened.

Whenever he was summoned, he would give bribes and be let free. I would also report to the pastor and share my woes with other women in church but aside from prayers, I never got any tangible help.

However, in 2018, I learnt about a community initiative from a friend which supports GBV survivors to seek help via an SMS platform. When he beat me up, I sent a text message and I was sent a case manager. He helped me get medical attention and afterward, I got help to report and file a case.

My ex-husband was arrested and jailed for six months. When he was freed, he never came back to our house. Leaving an abusive marriage is difficult and that is why it is important to have a support system. In my case, I had no close family members to turn to.

However, the community organisation offered me and other survivors group counselling.

Maggie: Two rape ordeals ended my nun aspirations

Growing up, I always wanted to be a Catholic nun but in 2017 my dreams crumbled. My mother had a charcoal-selling shop at Pipeline Estate, Nairobi.

I was 18 and had completed high school. My mother was unwell, I was unable to join university and instead, I would handle customers at her shop. There was one client, Bob, who would often come to buy charcoal.

From time to time, he would ask that I follow him to his house to collect money and nothing happened so I grew to trust him. On that fateful day on June 28, Bob asked that I accompany him but unlike the norm, this time round he offered me a glass of juice.

Since it was during the day, I had no worries at all. When I got inside the house, he locked the door, tore my clothes and raped me. For a long time, I did not tell anyone because I had no idea about how to access justice.

I suffered in silence for months until I opened up to one community health promoter. She took me to a local NGO where underwent 16 weeks of counselling and was assigned a mentor who was a social worker.

Towards the end of the year, Bob came to ask forgiveness but I could not do it. The social worker, Eva, pushed to report and track Bob, but he was never found. I heard that he might have escaped to Kirinyaga County. My life was completely shattered after that experience. For two years I suffered extreme depression. I urge survivors to speak up.

Naomi: My ex-husband bit my finger to prevent me from earning a living

I was married for 12 years to a verbally and physically abusive husband. The first few years were peaceful but over time, things escalated. I would constantly run away from our house.

The big issue was that; this man had married me when I had two children from a previous relationship whom he had not fully accepted, and then we had one child together. He would give me money or just buy enough things for himself, myself and his child.

When the items ran out before the end of the month because I included the other children, he would argue that as per his budget, that was not the plan. One day, I confronted him about his behaviour.

He said vile things in front of my children accusing me of prostituting myself. He started to hit me and he chased me outside to a sewer nearby with pliers and a knife. I was saved by a few women. After that incident, the nyumba kumi elders intervened and asked us to dissolve the marriage.

*Name changed to protect the identity of a minor. This story was done in collaboration with Africa Youth Trust and ActionAid Kenya