Working for women’s rights in Kenya: Interview with Nancy Boyani Sitima, Executive Director of the Forum for Women in Development, Democracy and Justice
The Forum for Women in Development, Democracy and Justice (FODDAJ) is a community-based, non-profit organization working to eliminate violence against women and girls and to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in formal and informal settlements in Kenya. It provides educational, psychological, business and counselling support to increase girls’ and women’s knowledge and awareness of their rights and to improve their quality of life.
FODDAJ’s project, supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), focuses on reducing the risks of sexual exploitation, abuse and violence for young women and adolescent girls in areas of high refugee concentration in Nairobi and Kajiado County, including but not limited to Karamojong girls. It aims to strengthen the emergency response to sexual and gender-based violence for refugee-hosting communities, and secure access to services for adolescent girls and young women refugees who are survivors of trafficking in Nairobi.
Nancy Sitima, Executive Director of FODDAJ, spoke to us about the organization’s project.
Some girls are sold off for as little as USD15 and trafficked through the Uganda-Kenya border.
Who are you primarily supporting through your project and what threatens their safety and wellbeing?
The Karamojong girls are adolescent girls and young women mostly between 10 to 25 years old trafficked from the Northern Eastern Region of Karamoja district in Uganda. Some factors that render them at risk to trafficking are food insecurity, poverty and the high prevalence of cattle rustling [theft].
Traffickers (organized through networks) use deception, coercion and abusive actions to recruit the girls and curb resistance of their parents or guardians. Many girls are underage and orphaned. The Arapai Market is also a key place for human trafficking where traffickers capitalize on widespread and hampered ability of families and communities to provide for their basic needs to trade their daughters. Some girls are sold off for as little as USD15 and trafficked through the Uganda-Kenya border. Other girls are lured with the promise of good jobs, education, a better life and then exploited for prostitution, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.
Authorities report that business owners [and] employers exploit the victims for sexual exploitation and forced labour in Nairobi’s Eastleigh and Kayole districts.
Poor physical and mental care exposes pregnant trafficking victims to risks of health complications, trauma and extreme poverty. One in three of the trafficked girls are found pregnant, many as a result of rape. According to the Pangani Dispensary [a large health facility in Nairobi], many trafficked girls suffer from sexually transmitted infections, receive no antenatal care and most have suicidal thoughts during pregnancy.
What kind of support and services has your organization been providing to these Karamojong girls?
FODDAJ has been providing unconditional direct material assistance to 156 girls to meet immediate basic needs that are tailored to their specific circumstances. The services we provide include counselling and health rights education, food distribution, emergency shelter, support in family tracing and reintegration for those willing to go back home, translation services to understand about services available and about their rights and refer to services for specialist support. We also provide transport to facilitate their travel to various services — 25 received food, 24 emergency shelter, 23 translation services, 6 family tracing, 4 voluntary return and transit assistance, 22 transport to referral services, and 62 received dignity kits. Twenty-two girls who presented urgent health needs were accompanied by case workers to the medical facility. We provide follow-ups and day-to-day hand-holding support to 56 girls through activities in safe spaces for group-based support.
We have also been providing human rights and health rights education and counselling support packages on sexual and reproductive health knowledge.
We have trained 25 counter-trafficking champions to support in identification, awareness creation and linking victims of trafficking to multiple services, for example health services, voluntary HIV counselling and testing and legal aid.
Are you coordinating with other organizations and institutions in the region?
We work with local women’s rights organizations working in the area of gender-based violence dedicated to refugees, victims of trafficking and other vulnerable populations. Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa provides shelter and family tracing linked to the voluntary return and reintegration of unaccompanied migrant children, girls and other vulnerable migrants. Al-Kamar provides protection of women migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia through legal and livelihood support. Survivors Mentors and Kamukunji Human Rights Defenders focus on communication that aims to inform migrants of safe migration options and how to detect trafficking in persons and seek assistance.
We have also worked with local media and private investigative journalists on research of emerging trends in the region and the Government of Kenya and affiliated institutions.
How has UN Trust Fund’s support helped your organization achieve its goals?
The project’s overall goal is to protect adolescent girls and young women refugees in Nairobi and Kajiado from harm and help them access life-saving services support so that they can recover. The UN Trust Fund’s support helped us to achieve our goals by improving service delivery and coordination among key gender-based violence service providers.
It also meant we could ensure victims of trafficking had safe entry points to many free and affordable support services that build their resilience and recovery.
The support also meant we could strengthen our institutional capacity to deliver the project […] and improve our emergency preparedness and response to the COVID-19 crisis.
What lessons can you share with the wider international community dedicated to ending violence against women and girls?
We ensured that the victims’ voices were amplified, causing more people to get involved and more victims to seek help. We found it was important to guarantee the girls’ security, privacy and confidentiality, which allowed the victims of trafficking to tell their stories.
We also engaged a variety of people in different sectors to help us combat human trafficking, ranging from the private sector and academic institutions to factories and other workplaces that employ most of the trafficked victims.
All our anti-trafficking work emphasizes a human rights approach that ensures that victims are empowered to regain control of their lives.
We also found that more information is needed for victims of trafficking, including children, regarding their legal rights and obligations. They need to be aware of the benefits of seeking help early, of services available and how to access them, and of the implications of being recognized as a victim of trafficking.
This interview is part of a series featuring UN Trust Fund grantees women’s rights organizations who benefit from grants and support from the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative.
*The EU/UN Spotlight Initiative was launched in 2017 to eradicate violence against women and girls, including by funding civil society organizations through the UN Trust Fund. The Alliances for Africa project contributes to Spotlight Initiative Outcome 6 by building coalitions between states and civil society actors to establish mechanisms for the effective implementation of legislation on ending violence against women and girls.