Battling GBV in Nakuru: Fidelis Wambui’s inspiring story hope in face of challenges

Fidelis Wambui Karanja

Ms Fidelis Wambui Karanja the CEO of Young African Women Initiatives (right) monitors women taking a tailoring course at a centre in Bondeni, Nakuru County.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ms Wambui has given girls and women in the slums of Free Area, Bondeni and Kaptembwa tips on protecting themselves from perpetrators of violence.
  • A big number of the women she helps are in the middle and upper classes. Some are professionals who rarely talks about GBV in their homes.

For five years, Fidelis Wambui Karanja has fought tooth and nail to end discrimination against women and gender-based violence (GBV).

Despite the many verbal insults and threats, Ms Karanja is not about to give up.

Talking to her as one of the heroes in the fight against GBV in Nakuru is like reading a story of hope and willpower.

Ms Karanja’s story is of hope and resilience. She has given girls and women in the slums of Free Area, Bondeni and Kaptembwa tips on protecting themselves from perpetrators of violence.

And it is not just the wretched of the Earth in the slums who are getting the services of Ms Karanja.

A big number of the women she helps are in the middle and upper-classes. Some are professionals who rarely talks about GBV in their homes.

“A majority of middle and upper-class women rarely talk about meted on them by spouses,” she says.

“Marriage is not supposed to be a death sentence. When you feel you’re not being treated like an equal shareholder in the union, the best thing is to seek freedom elsewhere,” she says.

Ms Karanja confidently talks about the highs and lows of her daily work, comparing it like a driver who is sure the vehicle’s tyres remain in contact with the road.

She says the driver must steer the vehicle properly and apply brakes properly, sure that the shock absorbers will work.

It is these “shock absorbers” that Ms Karanja says have kept her going, adding that they have optimally helped to keep women and girls safe.

“Being a shock absorber of women and girls in slums and posh areas who suffer daily violence means you absorb the impact of abuses, disagreements, pain, torture, tears and tension,” she says.

“My greatest joy is when I reduce the tension in the life of a girl or woman by showing her the right way to fight GBV at home, work place or any other place.”

Ms Karanja says she is always ready to absorb the negativity, stress and the anxiety that comes with her work to lessen it for victims of GBV in the cosmopolitan city and surrounding areas.

“I know my life is at times in danger because of the many threats but that will not stop me from advocating for a just society through ending GBV,” stated Ms Karanja who is the founder of Young African Women Initiatives (YAWI), an NGO.

She says her work has had a positive impact on society “as it makes many feel better and comfortable”.

“It is tough to place other people’s needs before yours. That can have an impact on one’s mental health and overall well-being. Because I feel like a shock absorber, the fight against the violence must be sustained,” she added.

Ms Karanja who her upbringing helped shape her perception towards life.

“Domestic violence was the order of the day where I grew up. Because of that, I swore to champion the rights of girls and women on becoming an adult. I am happy to be living my dream,” she says.

The journey has not been easy, she says.

“Some victims are compromised by their tormentors and corrupt administrators like chiefs to withdraw the cases,” Ms Karanja says.

“I can sometimes pursue a GBV case when about to reach the end for the abuser to be apprehended, the victim withdraws.”

And that is not all. Ms Karanja has had to deal with situations in which victims come to the defence of their abusers.

“One woman even told me her abuser was mentally ill and that she had taken the decision to forgive him,” she says.

“This was a nurse who almost died at the hands of her abuser. The man attempted to strangle her with a mosquito net. She was ready to withdraw the case against him despite living on borrowed time.”

Apart from the above challenges, Ms Karanja has had to face accusations of being a home and marriage-breaker.

“Some men blame me for being a homewrecker yet it is their girlfrirends or wives who report these cases to us,” Ms Karanja says.

“They do not choose to report to police but come to YAWI. They are comfortable opening up at YAWI instead of police since we cannot be compromised.”

A woman once sought refuge at YAWI offices when her husband threatened to throw her in a dam for refusing to reveal where she was getting help.

“These kinds of threats are mostly from wealthy husbands who fear being exposed in courts of law,” she says.

Some of the cases YAWI handleS are intriguing. Ms Karanja cites a woman she offered psycho-social support after her husband of 30 years.

“This man was not comfortable with the fact that his wife was not a virgin when they met. The violence against her may not have been physical but was emotional for he kept using unprintable words against her ,” says Ms Karanja.

“This clearly shows many sufferin women have not identified GBV red flags. Victims of GBV – both women and men – should walk out of such unions. They should not be bound by factors like property as that might translate to death.”

The progress Ms Karanja has made in ensuring the right of women and girls to live free from abuse has kept her going.

“I have never felt like I want to quit. I feel great when when people get justice,” she says.

“I will continue stepping on the accelerating pedal to help identify, prevent and remedy violence at home and in the workplace, with a strong focus on gender.”

Her work faces many hurdles, chief among them being delays in courts and police stations.

“Barriers to justice are concentrated in the corridors of justice. It is annoying to see an officer demanding a birth certificate to prove that a 13-year-old girl was raped by a 50-year-old man,” Ms Karanja says.

“Sexual misconduct, assault, child abuse and related crimes do not require a birth certificate for proof.”