When Joshua Nyolo lost his wife in 2018, he had no idea how he would raise his two-year-old daughter. He had resigned from his job and lost an election the same year. It was his dark point in life without the support of his family.
“I decided to raise my daughter on my own. I did not want to give her away to my in-laws because children are supposed to grow up with their parents, even in the most difficult period. Since I was unemployed, I raised her without any assistance, just the two of us,” says Nyolo.
“She was my consolation after losing the MCA election for Ekalakala Ward back in 2017. I used to cry a lot and became depressed, but she gave me hope to continue living.”
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, LVCT Health recalled him back to work. It was a God-given second chance to serve his community. However, unlike his prior role as a researcher at LVCT Health, he is now a Norms Change and Community Mobilisation Officer.
He says the new role is befitting as he had to be a mother and father to his child after losing his wife. However, he didn’t mind taking up traditional ‘women’s roles, such as changing diapers and bathing his daughter.
“Certain socio-cultural norms perpetuate gender-based violence. For instance, many assume a man should handle finances, while the woman’s role is child-bearing, which leaves a woman vulnerable.”
He returned to the field during an unprecedented spike in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). While rescuing children and women from abuse in Nairobi and Kiambu counties, he encountered some of the most traumatic cases.
“There are several types of GBV; physical, economic and emotional or psychological. Most people are unaware of emotional abuse, yet it is one of the most dangerous forms. It is what causes stress and depression,” explains Nyolo.
During the 2020 lockdown, Nyolo says he rescued an emotional abuse survivor whose case was so severe. She had developed mouth ulcers caused by her husband- the perpetrator.
“We contacted the chief at her upcountry home, organised her travel back home, and briefed local authorities to protect her from her abusive husband,” he recounts.
In another case, he rescued a woman from Korogocho slum whose husband had fastened a chain to their bed and was using it to assault her physically. Her husband had also stabbed her with a knife.
“We took her to a safe house outside the county. Sometimes this is necessary because some perpetrators are not even afraid of the local administration. Sometimes, we take women and children to safe houses far away from the vicinity of the perpetrator.”
On a typical day, he coordinates the efforts of community change agents in seven wards within Kiambu County.
“I support them by ensuring that they are well trained and have enough resources to do their work, and in difficult cases such as defilement, I accompany them during rescues. This is because most perpetrators are known to the victims; they could be neighbours or even foster parents.”
Nyolo works with stakeholders such as local chiefs, the children’s office and police officers. He has rescued about 25 women and 20 children since 2020. However, he explains that some area chiefs and village elders protect perpetrators.
“You would find that a certain chief doesn’t want a perpetrator taken to court. So they would either dismiss serious crimes such as defilement as family issues or protect them from prosecution because they are well known to them,” he says.
One such case was of a young girl who her foster father had repeatedly defiled for almost two years. It has been an uphill task for him to make the area’s local authorities understand that they should prosecute sexual violence cases. He reveals that he is even in community leaders’ bad books as they want him to abandon the case.
He says communities should be sensitised on all forms of GBV as a step towards winning the war against it.
“Some people don’t believe that there is marital rape. For instance, some women come to me complaining that their husbands have forced them to have sex barely a week after giving birth. The men say that they own their wives’ bodies because they paid the bride price.” Nyolo believes a power balance in a marriage is the most effective way of ending GBV.
“This means both partners would be equal. However, for this to happen, women must be financially empowered so that they are not fully dependent on their husbands.”
Going forward, Mr Nyolo wants all stakeholders to be involved in the war on GBV. “For instance, a police officer handling the gender desk should ensure that due process is followed in investigations and evidence collection. This assists survivors of SGBV in getting justice once they go to court.”
Despite receiving death threats from some perpetrators, he remains committed to the campaign and says he would never abandon it for anything. LVCT Health has implemented gender-based violence (GBV) programme since 2005