Ending Harmful Practices in the Coastal Region of Kenya

Women and girls living within Mombasa and Kwale counties experience many social and cultural norms that oppress and infringe their rights.

Most of these women have not gone to school because they were made to believe that education is ‘haram’- (forbidden). As a result, they lack understanding of any of their rights; their right to life, their right to education, their right to inheritance, their right to family planning, among others.

Other harmful practices perpetuated within these counties include; denied inheritance, denied access to government services and social amenities such as acquisition of Identity Cards (IDs). The region is also rife with high incidences of non-hospital births, child marriages, teen-age pregnancies, wife inheritance, and gender-based violence.

Many of the women have therefore become predisposed to violent extremism because of the emotional and financial burdens brought by the harmful societal norms and practices.

According to Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014, 24% of girls aged 15-19 years in Kwale County have begun childbearing. Specifically, 5% are pregnant with their first child and 19% have ever given birth. A 2016 report by the Faith to Action Network also shows that cultural practices such as” disco matanga” (traditional dances held in the open for seven nights after the death of a community member) as among the key drivers of teenage pregnancies in the region.

Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA) has worked for more than 15 years to emancipate women and girls in Mombasa and Kwale counties. Some of KMYA’s programmes include; legal rights training for Ustadhs and Maalimats – male and female teachers of Islamic religion, to address the rights of women in the society during their teaching sessions.

“We realize that it is easier to reach a bigger audience by use of Community point persons who know where these women and girls are. We use Ustadhs and Maalimats as our mobilizers. We train them on legal rights because they already know the religion, when they compare the legal aspects and the religious aspects of these issues, and find out they not differing much then they deliver that to their women and supportive systems during sermons,”

Farida Abdulbasit, Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance.

Farida was sharing these interventions during an interview conducted on the sidelines of a recent inter-faith leaders’ training conducted by Faith to Action Network, in Nairobi, to build their capacity to influence changes in policy and social norms in the State of African Women Campaign.

KMYA also conducts training on women rights for girls who attend madrasas. “We reach out to these girls in madrasas because we cannot get them in schools. We teach them the importance of education among other rights,” added Farida.

Use of Muslim role models/career women with academic excellence, despite upholding their culture has been fruitful. The girls therefore realize that they can still observe positive aspects of their culture (such as dressing) yet become valuable people in the society. With this programme, KMYA engages women Members of County Assembly (MCAs) as facilitators. Within one-year KMYA has reached over 160 girls.

“Over time, there has been change of perception in girls, more girls want to pursue education and not marriage at an early age,” Farida said.

In addition, the organization conducts Girl Child Outreach campaigns. So far, they have reached 1500 girls and women with information on early marriages, education and early pregnancies. “We talk to women who are guardians to 12-year-old girls and above. We train them on basic legal rights and the rights of children,” said Farida.

“We put the Kenyan Constitution here and Islamic teachings here, we show them what Islam says and what the constitution says.  For example, the constitution says that everyone has a right to education and the Qu’ran says that everyone should be educated; both religious knowledge and knowledge of the world. We try to compliment the two, then it becomes easier for them to comprehend,” she continued.

KMYA has also built capacity of Mosque committees and religious leaders to change the social norm of mosques being houses of prayers to being complete social entities that can talk about women issues as well as come up with strategies and policies to help women and girls in the community.   “Apart from Mosques being a social entity, we work with the Mosque committees and religious leaders to talk about women issues in the mosques during sermons. This is also how men get to learn about women issues and women rights,” said Farida.

As members of Faith to Action Network, KMYA is among the faith-based organizations that is working within the RightByHer Campaign to contribute to realizing and extending women’s rights as enshrined in Africa Union (AU) policies in African countries.

Article by Lorna Andisi

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