By Aska Josephine Odera, FEDWEN Kenya
Deaf and hard of hearing people in Kenya face many challenges when seeking services and inclusion in society. Communities do not always create enabling environments for them to exercise their rights. Difficulties in accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) include communication barriers, a lack of legal frameworks for protection against gender-based violence (GBV), stigma and discrimination, limited knowledge, and lack of social support structures. Cultural barriers mean people with disabilities are often seen as lesser beings. Forced sterilisation is also a reality.
The Federation for Deaf Women Empowerment Network - Kenya (FEDWEN-K) has implemented a project, funded by AmplifyChange, entitled ‘Listening to the voice of the voiceless’ in Kenya, operating across four counties over eight months.
Empowerment through sign language provision
FEDWEN-K has integrated various strategies to create awareness on SRHR, developing information, education and communications materials accessible to deaf people and basic Kenyan sign language pamphlets for community and service providers.
Sign language training was offered to law enforcers and health service professionals in all four counties to provide referrals and legal help.
To empower deaf women and provide knowledge on SRHR, FEDWEN-K used various methods: community interaction sessions in safe spaces; awareness creation for women, youth and children with disabilities, parents of deaf children, law enforcers, and health service providers; the formation of self-support groups; and the provision of referrals and legal help.
Sign language training achieves justice for deaf victims of sexual violence
Elizabeth, a deaf project beneficiary, was introduced to FEDWEN-K by community members. Before joining the project, Elizabeth lost four legal cases: fighting gender-based violence (GBV), attempted murder by her husband, the burning of her house and domestic violence. All the cases were unsuccessful due to the lack of a sign language interpreter. To record statements with the police, for example, her husband would need to help her write, but in one of the cases he was the offender. Since the police could not communicate with her the case could not proceed to court.
With the help of the project and her two children, Elizabeth’s last case pushed through. FEDWEN-K attended court to make sure the interpretation was accurate, unlike previous occasions. After the ruling Elizabeth retained her property and her husband was imprisoned.
Elizabeth’s case demonstrates the importance of professional sign language interpreters. FEDWEN – K provided police and medical officers with training in basic sign language as well as training on disability inclusion. This raised awareness among these professionals of the need to involve a qualified interpreter. Not only were they interested in learning sign language, but the training is now used as leverage to gain a promotion, heightening motivation.
Achievements and recommendations
'Listening to the voices of the voiceless' has shown clear results.
Through active advocacy there is now a deaf representative of PLWDs in the Nyeri County Government Health Committee. In addition, Law enforcers in Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Nyeri have formed a policy requiring all front office personnel to learn basic sign language. This is a remarkable outcome which FEDWEN-K are very proud of.
Illustration by De Beeldvormers