A win for gender equality, led by and for women! Interview with Wangechi Wachira, Executive Director of CREAW (Kenya)

“Our engagements […] made sure that the Policy was women driven.”

The Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), a women-led feminist organization based in Kenya is leading a project to strengthen the implementation of laws and policies relating to gender-based violence in Isiolo, Nairobi, and Narok counties. The project, supported by a grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), aims to empower young women and girl survivors of violence aged 10–24.

In February 2022, Isiolo county, one of CREAW’s project sites, officially launched its own Gender Policy that will guide the mainstreaming process of the county’s policies and processes. The policy was drafted by CREAW and the Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association (KEWOPA); CREAW has also teamed up with local women’s rights groups to advocate for this adoption of the Gender Policy.

We spoke with Wangechi Wachira, CREAW’s Executive Director, about this milestone.

Wangechi Wachira, CREAW’s Executive Director. Courtesy of Wangechi Wachira

Could you please tell us a bit about the history of this achievement: how did CREAW begin to work on a Gender Policy, what did the process look like, and what does it mean for women and girls in Isiolo, but also in Kenya, with this milestone?

When we began implementing the project in 2018, we conducted a needs assessment in Isiolo and Narok counties that gave insights into the gaps and challenges faced by women and girls when it came to realizing their full rights. These include the high prevalence of violence against women and girls, compounded by cultural restrictions that limited their enjoyment of freedom and rights. It is also critical to note that in 2018, the political context in Isiolo county motivated local women to mobilize and advocate, among other things, for a county-specific gender policy that would ensure women’s representation in official positions at the county levels, resource allocation for gender-based violence interventions and economic justice for women and girls in their diversities in Isiolo.

We saw it best to work with the government, to initiate policy initiatives that would ensure gender mainstreaming in all government functions. The Government of Isiolo put together a task force that jointly worked with CREAW and The Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) to develop the first draft of the Gender Policy (mentioned in the article as the Policy) that would pass through the local county assembly and later through a public participation process for adoption and enactment in February 2022.

The Policy is all-inclusive, meaning that it provides specific information for how the County Government of Isiolo can mainstream gender in all County functions to address a number of issues, including but not limited to public participation and representation of women and girls in all sectors; economic funds and equal opportunities for women; and a mechanism for gender-based violence prevention and response (safety nets, shelters, economic justice, etc.) so that one-stop centers for survivors can be created.

Isiolo is the 6th county out of 47 counties in Kenya to domesticate a gender policy. It will create a great opportunity for other counties to learn and replicate the initiative, especially once the implementation of this policy takes off.

Group of people gathering around a table, one man is cutting a green string with scissors. It represents the launch of the Isiolo Policy.
Isiolo policy launch. Credit: CREAW

What are the challenges and attributes for success for this Gender Policy to be adopted?

As mentioned, the county has a high prevalence of violence against women and girls, including FGM/C, child marriages and early pregnancies that are culturally driven. There are high illiteracy levels among the locals as well. As an Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) County, Isiolo has limited resources and infrastructure challenges, and relies heavily on the national government and other external partners.

However, it is important to note that all government agencies are in support of this process and political willingness is assured.

CREAW worked with local women’s rights groups to advocate for the adoption of the Gender Policy. How has this collaboration within the local feminist networks contributed to the success of this project?

Our engagements with local champions who are vocal and well trusted within the communities made sure that the Policy was women driven. At the community level, the women involved felt confident to share their views and challenges that formed the basis of the policy. They also played a key role in community mobilization and sensitization on gender-based violence and policy dissemination.

Women champions also petitioned the County through processions and community radio activities to demand the passage of the policy when the government delayed in adopting the policy due COVID-19 restrictions.

How has the UN Trust Fund’s support, including the additional funds through the Spotlight Initiative and flexibility in the context of COVID-19 contributed to your project’s results?

The funds enabled CREAW to provide a continuum of critical services at the height of increased cases of violence emanating from the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, including the provision of temporary shelters, cash transfers that helped women meet their immediate needs, dignity kits to vulnerable women and girls, psycho-social support, and legal aid.

What can donors do to better support local women’s rights organizations to achieve their goals in ending violence against women?

Donors can fund women’s rights organizations directly to continue with their crucial work of providing essential support services to women and girls, particularly survivors of gender-based violence, to enable them to heal and build resilience beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The direct funding to women’s rights organizations should also be extended to include systems strengthening support to the local governments to be able to fully implement similar policies.

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UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to eradicating all forms of #VAWG. https://untf.unwomen.org/