Written by Is’haq Mahmoud, Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa
Some of the information will not be so relevant to the current situation, but we think this guide offers useful advice to SRHR advocates.
Our Ambassadors, 6 Imams (male) and 26 Maalimats (female), had been working with communities in Kajiado, Narok and Naivasha (which have high levels of female genital mutilation [FGM]) on SRHR education/promotion and Anti-FGM campaigns. They worked within religious activities to reach men with GBV prevention messages based on religious teachings.
When the pandemic restricted movement and access to services and information, women in these communities – already in need of FGM social norm change – were reporting increased GBV and asking for help.
Both the Ambassadors and the women and girls were limited in COVID-19 knowledge, prevention and how to handle sexual violence cases in the COVID-19 context.
Vulnerable populations often lack access to information and are more likely to receive inaccurate information, either inadvertently or deliberately to uphold existing unequal power dynamics and/or create opportunities for exploitation.
This has been compounded during COVID-19 by restrictions on movement and interactions, and the Ambassadors did not have the knowledge or connections to respond adequately to such cases.
However, we realised that we could build on their GBV-related experience with FGM and empower them to help.
We added COVID-19 information and GBV support to the Ambassadors’ community work. We trained 32 Ambassadors on COVID-19 knowledge, prevention and handling sexual violence cases.
This includes identifying problems, psychological first aid (PFA) and relaying information on available GBV services, including referrals. The Ambassadors meet victims (following social distancing guidelines), engage their confidence and offer practical help.
We work with the County Gender Officer following Kenyan guidelines, linking with Police and treatment services where appropriate. We also collect GBV data.
For more context, the counties of Kajiado, Narok and Naivasha Sub-County have a high population of Somali immigrants living with the local ethnic Masai, who 97% and 94% perform FGM/ respectively.
To enhance the Ambassadors’ knowledge and capacity in light of COVID-19, we engaged and collaborated with the County Public Officer, the Gender Officer and the Administration for technical support and supervision for training. This ensured that the Ambassadors are aware of all the Government’s guidelines – on COVID-19 prevention and GBV referrals.
Our Ambassadors were provided with telephone contact numbers for relevant GBV service providers to report cases that would need their immediate action, including picking the victim for medical help if needed. Where possible, an Ambassador will physically escort a victim to ensure the victim actually gets to the provider – the women from our communities can be naïve and shy due to high levels of illiteracy and male intimidation. Of course, with COVID-19 this must be done with great care, following government guidelines on safety and prevention.
Their capacity to respond to COVID-19 impacts was built and enhanced. Linkages were strengthened between the service providers (the Ministry of Health (MOH), Gender Officer and the Administration (for security and ease of movement for the Ambassadors). Data collection was also improved to relate to current situation.
Is’haq Mahmoud is a Programs Manager working with the Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa. He has over 15 years’ experience working on community empowerment in the areas of SRHR, GBV Mitigation and Prevention and Community Health.