Selina Jepkosgei did not know that women have a right to express their ideas and opinions freely in the community and before men.
As an Ogiek woman who has spent most of her life in a society whose inter-gender interactions are deeply defined by the structural orders of cultural principles and definitions, she has understood freedom of expression to be a preserve of men.
“I am happy to learn that women too have freedom to express themselves…we are always afraid of saying some things lest we be condemned for upsetting the social order,” said Chepkosgei
Chepkosgei was among the more than 100 women who attended a forum in Ndungulu village in Kesses Sub-County, Uasin Gishu County where they were sensitized on the rights of women and means of seeking for redress in case of abuse.
Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) held the forum that was also attended by men and youth on December 13, 2017 courtesy of a grant from Land is Life.
Beatrice Kimani, an Outreach Officer with Rural Women Peace Link educated the women on their various rights.
She referred to the Constitution, Matrimonial Property Act, Marriage Act and Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).She informed them that women inalienable right to education; employment; economic freedom and development; health and property ownership.
Under the Kenyan Constitution, women are guaranteed freedom of expression that they should be given fair and equal opportunities to contribute to development through ideas, opinions and suggestions, she said.
“Nobody should view a woman as a person who should be seen and not to be heard. A woman has a right to be listened to be it in the house, in the market or in the community forums,” she said.
She said it is an absolute illegality for women to be subjected to physical abuse and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) since it is a violation of their human rights and right to safety physical, psychological, sexual and reproductive health.
Kimani encouraged men to speak against activities that harm the women.She said men play a central role in ensuring women’s rights are upheld.
“We cannot win the fight against gender based violence without the support of men,” she noted.
Joseph Kaila, a community leader who attended the forum said the community becomes more conscious of the human rights abuses committed against the women when they are knowledgeable.
He said the level of awareness on the rights of women among the area community members was low and thanked OPDP for improving it through the sensitization forum.
Eunice Chepkemoi, Gender Officer at OPDP said retrogressive cultures were endangering the sexual and reproductive rights of both women and girls, giving an example of customs that confer respect to men married to women who have been cut.
She said circumcision of married women was increasingly becoming a worrying phenomenon in the contemporary rural set-up as husbands are forced to subject their wives to the cut due to the social stigma inflicted by the society.
“We must do away with this cultural stereotypes to be able to protect our women and girls from harm. Let us all stand up against the harmful cultural practices,” said Chepkemoi.
“These days, many young girls and boys are indulging in immoral activities because of lack of guidance from their parents. There must be deliberate commitment from the parents to nurture the character and behaviour of their children,” she said.
The Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 reported that 39 percent of women aged 15-49 and who have ever been married, experienced either physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner or spouse, indicating a serious problem that needs concerted efforts to undo the pattern.