Experiencing the life of Gender-based violence and abuse has never been anyone’s dream, especially when one is looking forward to getting married. During this COVID-19 pandemic, many women have reported experiencing Gender-based violence from their partners. One of the reasons for such cases has been reported to be stress and strain due to job losses and economic hardships resulting to couples spending longer hours together than before. This has been made worse by the strict measures like curfews and lockdowns imposed in the country.
SASA (Start Awareness Support Action) is a community mobilization approach that aims at rescuing women and girls from violence and HIV developed by raising voices. The initiative was launched to protect women and children against various forms of Violence. When a woman is susceptible to violence, especially from her partner, she is at high risk of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, including HIV. LVCT Health has been implementing the SASA initiative within informal settlements of Kenya offering training and support to change agents in the communities.
Carol (not her real name), a 28-year-old mother of three children, (two boys, and one girl) was rescued by LVCT Health SASA agents from her abusive partner who threatened to kill her and their three children. Caroline tells her story in tears as she remembers the heartbreaking moments that almost saw her dead before she was rescued, although she still fears for her life. Her struggle in life begun at age 16 when she dropped out of school. At the age of 17, she ran away from home where she lived with her grandmother after her parents died. Life was tough because they lived in abject poverty so she opted to relocate to Nairobi city in search of a job.
Life was not easy for her in the city because the only person she knew and relied on was her aunt, who later mistreated her and chased her away. “I saw that life was unbearable staying with my aunt because most times she did not give me food,” said Caroline. She ended up becoming a house help and earned 1500 Kshs. per month. Caroline was further mistreated by her employer and opted to leave and start living with her boyfriend.
They stayed together without knowing that the man was a wanted criminal. He was later shot dead by the police, leaving Caroline with her firstborn child. Caroline got a job at a local bar as a waitress. She struggled to support her child by herself and was lucky to fall in love again with a man who promised to take care of her and her son. Since she was vulnerable and needed help, she agreed to stay with the man after her house was demolished since it was located in a riparian land. Three months later, she became pregnant, and her new partner started mistreating her through verbal and physical abuse.
“Most of my neighbors and friends could not help me because they feared my husband. There was a time he followed me to church and harassed the pastor for allowing me to fellowship at his church,” explained Carol. Her neighbors feared talking to Carol because they would receive death threats from the husband. Her children experienced constant punishment through beatings. When Caroline gave birth to her third child through an operation, her husband would constantly beat her despite her healing operation wound, threatening to kill her.
Carol sought help from the police, but they did not take action as they classified the matter as a domestic issue; they advised her to solve it with her husband. Her turning point took place when the husband set their baby girl on fire. The neighbors stepped in and rescued the child and took her to the hospital. At the hospital, Caroline met a doctor who referred her to LVCT-Health SASA change agents who took her to a rescue center, where she is receiving counseling together with her children.
Power is not only the problem of gender-based violence, but it is also the solution to many who need to use it appropriately in fighting violence and the spread of HIV. SASA intervention helps people think about their power, hence the need to rescue more women like Caroline who feel trapped by partners that use their power to offer violence. Change agents work and collaborate with the community, health care workers, and the police to ensure help is offered to the survivors of violence.
At the moment, Carol is enjoying a peaceful life at the rescue center as she watches her children grow and live a happier life, free from torture, violence, and fear. She looks forward to starting a business that will help build her life and that of her children.
The center aims at rescuing women and girls going through violence by providing counseling and life skills that help them begin a different lifestyle free from fear and violence. Thanks to the SASA initiative and LVCT-Health change agents, Carol lives to share her story and take care of her children.