From victim to champion: Peris Wamaitha’s mission to end GBV

Peris Wamaitha GBV

Peris Wamaitha, 42, at her home in Mutaro on the outskirts of Maralal town in Samburu County. Ms Wamaitha, a domestic violence survivor, is the founder of a survivors’ group called Nang’iri Women Group. 

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • What started as minor family misunderstandings snowballed into torturous violence that left her partially disabled.

  • The mother of 4 from Samburu formed a survivors’ group through which they promote women’s and girls’ rights

At 28, Peris Wamaitha was beaten by her husband, causing her injuries all over her body.

That was her first experience with gender-based violence (GBV), although at that time, she thought it was a "normal family conflict".

What started as minor family misunderstandings snowballed into torturous violence that left her partially disabled.

“I will never forget the horrible experience I endured in my abusive marriage. It ruined my life and life has never been the same,” says Ms Wamaitha, as she breaks down in tears during an interview with the Saturday Nation.

For close to five years, she reveals that she was physically abused by her husband (now her ex). She was punched in the face, struck with objects, shoved against walls, thrown to the floor and kicked mercilessly.

When Ms Wamaitha and her ex-husband’s business in Maralal, Samburu County, began to thrive, he showed his true colours. According to her, the man went on to marry a second wife “after turning me into a punching bag”.

“Our business was thriving when he decided to marry a second wife. I thought that with the second wife, I would be relieved of beatings and be peaceful. But it was not the case, I was literally a punching bag,” she recalls.

One day in 2015, she decided to pack her bags and leave.

After barely a week of living alone in a rented room in Maralal town, her husband showed up suddenly and wanted to know why she left their matrimonial home. He then became violent.

“I was beaten for about five hours nonstop. I lost consciousness. After I gained my consciousness, I found myself hospitalised, while surrounded by family members and well-wishers," she explains.

Unfortunately, Ms Wamaitha was partially disabled following the severe injuries she sustained from the fight with her husband. Her left hand and leg sustained major fractures, which were treated for six months with metal implants.

She was bruised emotionally as well.

“I spent six months in hospital. It was a near-death experience, but I thank God I survived. I am partially disabled, but I reflect and see myself alive and thank God.”

After the incident, she had to start from scratch, in a single rented room in the Mutaro area on the outskirts of Maralal town.

She is now struggling to provide for her four children, who entirely depend on her. Although one of them dropped out of school for lack of school fees, Ms Wamaitha is optimistic that she will manage to pay for her daughters in high school.

“Life has been really hard as a single parent providing for all four children alone. I am doing my best to give them basic requirements, although it is not easy.”

Now 42, Ms Wamaitha has become an anti-GBV activist in Samburu and has been in the spotlight for more than five years. She, and other women’s rights activists, have been traversing the vast county to sensitise women to the dangers of GBV.

Recently, she, through the aid of officials from the gender department, founded a GBV survivors’ group called Nang'iri Women Group. Nang'iri is a Samburu word for patience. The group, Ms Wamaitha says, has 26 members—all survivors of domestic violence.

When she started the group, the goal was to educate people on GBV, which is rampant in the county.

Women and girls are at increased risk of GBV and other forms of exploitation during droughts. As droughts decimate livestock and other sources of livelihoods, the women carry the burden of having to find water and food.

“The number of members of the Nang'iri is rising each day. It shows how rampant the vice is in our villages. Remember, there are those who fear coming out for fear of stigmatisation,” she says.

The women have the ability to craft their own paths in life but lack financial support to start their journey to recovery. Ms Wamaitha sees potential in women who endure hard times in their abusive marriages. She says financial and psychosocial support is needed to help them.

“We would like to get help, really, to enable us to craft our own paths,” she says.

Boost to campaigns

Due to rampant cases of GBV, Kenya and Finland signed a multimillion-shilling programme to involve Samburu County in the fight against GBV and other harmful practices. The memorandum of understanding (MoU), signed in Maralal on April 13, incorporated stakeholders in multiple projects to eradicate GBV cases in the pastoral region.

The programme is tailored to fight GBV at the county and national levels. Samburu was among the counties chosen because of its unique context and rampant cases arising from cultural practices.

The MoU boosted previous decrees by religious and cultural leaders, who signed agreements in 2020 to end GBV. The decrees, signed in presence of then President Uhuru Kenyatta, outlawed retrogressive practices, paving the way for alternative rites of passage that honour the rights and wellbeing of women and girls.

During the signing of the MoU, Gender Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa reiterated that the government was committed to ending GBV and all other harmful practices in Samburu and other parts of the country. 

The CS lauded the combined efforts of the government and development partners, Finland to be specific, to support the journey to ending GBV.

She added that her ministry, through collaboration with other stakeholders, will ensure a decline in cases.

In the agreements, Ms Jumwa revealed they were seeking to engage elders and the youth to debunk misconceptions in society. Other measures she said include the introduction of a special bursary kitty to help vulnerable girls in the interior villages.

“Illiteracy is the root cause of increased GBV cases. We will probably introduce a special bursary for those vulnerable girls in the village," she said on April 13.

In Samburu County, violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights abuses.