Why Lamu safe house for victims of violence remains empty

Why Lamu safe house for victims of violence remains empty

Even with the rampant cases of violence and the need for a safe space for women in Lamu, the county safe house for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors that was opened this year has remained idle for six months now.

No single client has been received at the facility located in Mokowe Health Centre, Lamu West, Nation.Africa has established, despite there being rampant cases of SGBV in many parts of Lamu, including wife and husband battering, rape, incest, defilement, and sodomy.

In July, after construction was completed, the financier, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), handed over the Sh6 million safe house to the county government and other stakeholders.

This made Lamu become the 13th county in Kenya to have a safe house for survivors of GBV.

During the handing over ceremony of the 10-bed safe shelter, KPA Acting Managing Director John Mwangemi said it will provide protection for many victims of violence.

“The presence of this particular SGBV centre will help restore the dignity of survivors of such heinous acts. We must embrace the victims of SGBV and ensure they are counselled and protected from such evils,” said Mr Mwangemi.

Six months down the line, however, the Mokowe Safe House has remained an empty building with no activities.

This is not because the SGBV cases are non-existent in the region, but because residents have not been reporting such matters to relevant authorities to ensure the protection of victims, officials say.

The World Vision Lamu Branch, which is among the stakeholders given the mandate to ensure the facility is operational, told Nation.Africa on Thursday that many victims, particularly those involved in family feuds-husband-wife battering and related cases, end up solving their problems communally. Hence, the cases are not reported and victims do not get justice.

Lamu’s World Vision Child Protection, Participation and Safeguarding Officer, Dennis Maranga, said many victims in Lamu tend to view GBV as normal acts and do not see the relevance of taking refuge in the facility.

Mr Maranga said his organisation is working towards ensuring the Lamu community can report such issues through the Rapid Response Systems such as the National GBV helpline 1195 and Children Kenya hotline 116.

“There is a major challenge in reporting GBV cases in Lamu. A wife, even if she is beaten and injured, isn’t willing to report her husband to the police since he is the breadwinner of the family and [she] fears the repercussions of having him arrested and charged. So, they rather solve it communally,” he said.

“The men feel ashamed reporting to the police that they have been beaten by their wives. They prefer dying silently.”

Khadija Guracho, a woman elder at Bar’goni, said that despite GBV existing among the Boni Community, the women are not willing to make public the incidents, which they consider as family issues and not public issues.

“Reporting or taking refuge in a safe house is similar to exposing yourself. People will see or identify you, and it’s shameful. Some might even laugh at you for announcing your marital problems to the whole world. That’s why we prefer solving our domestic issues at home,” said Ms Guracho.

Another issue resulting in many GBV cases failing to be reported is that mothers involved in domestic feuds with their husbands are unwilling to leave behind their children and run to a safe house.

“They prefer enduring all the injustices provided they take care of their children at the homestead,” said Bulo Salim of Mokowe's Majengo area.

Some victims of SGBV also shy away from running to a safe shelter as they view it as an isolated area from the rest of the community.

“Victims prefer running to their parents from their matrimonial homes rather than take refuge in a safe shelter. They say going to their parents’ homes will enable them to share their grievances with them and get consolation rather than isolating themselves in a safe house,” said Mariam Mweni, a community activist.

Chief Inspector Sammy Kamwara, the overall officer in charge of the Gender Desk and Hindi Police Station, said cases of SGBV were rampant, particularly in areas where the pastoralist communities reside.

Mr Kamwara said SGBV hotspots include Mokowe, Kilimani, Majengo, Bar’goni, Kausara, Ndeu, Jua Kali, and Mbuzi Wengi, all in the Hindi Division.

He warned residents against using kangaroo courts to deal with cases of SGBV. Kangaroo courts always ignore recognised standards of law or justice, he added.

“Elders, especially in places like Kilimani and Majengo, are experts in hiding cases of girls being raped or children defiled. They always preside [over] and solve it secretly through maslahi. That’s not right at all,” said Mr Kamwara.

“We want the laws in place to be applied instead. We encourage locals to report SGBV cases in time to enable us to protect the rights and lives of survivors.”

Lamu Women Alliance Chief Executive Officer, Raya Famau, said the lack of permanent staff and failure to publicise the newly opened Mokowe Safe Shelter as among the reasons hindering the community from making maximum use of the facility despite the high number of SGBV cases reported in the area.

“Most residents don’t even know such a facility exists in Lamu…There is also a lack of staff. I am advocating for a scenario where nurses, clinical officers, psychological counsellors, a community lawyer or a paralegal officer will be on standby to receive the SGBV victims. Without this, the Mokowe SGBV safe shelter will be a waste,” said Ms Famau.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 37 per cent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

According to Kenya's national data published in 2014, about 41 percent of women reported having experienced physical or sexual violence from their husbands or partners. About two-fifths of those women reported physical injuries from the violence.

And in Lamu, statistics from the County Gender-Based Report as registered by the public health facilities indicate that 327 cases of sexual violence were handled from 2015 to 2019.