It all started with Liz, the 16-year-old girl who was gang raped by six youths and dumped in a pit latrine in June 2013. This incident brought the world’s focus to Busia and Butula Kenya where Liz lived. There were accusations and counter accusations, denials and even some who wanted to take advantage of the whole situation for personal gain.
A journalist who was keen on Liz’s story then found out that REEP was the only organization in the county trying to speak out on this issue. At REEP, we had a long list of over 8000 children who had reported having been defiled [raped]. Defilement of children and violence against women was viewed as an acceptable thing and a normal occurrence. Indeed, REEP was labelled an organization that was making women “rude” and sending men (defilers) to prison to suffer for nothing. We also had a very hostile police force that thrived on getting bribes from perpetrators to end the cases without going to court. And some members of the judiciary were no better. Many times we just wanted to throw in the towel and stop.
[Equality Now joined the Justice for Liz campaign in January 2014 when progress in the case stalled. In solidarity with Liz and all survivors of sexual violence in Kenya, Equality Now partnered with REEP, COVAW, Avaaz, FEMNET and the SOAWR Coalition to hold a rally in June 2014 in Busia County.]
Our work with Equality Now started with a bang... a big bang. After that rally, everything changed for the better. Within a week very senior government officers had visited Busia to review 72 cases of defilement that REEP had presented to Equality Now. The few days that followed saw the arrest of over 10 people who had defiled children but had gotten off scot-free either because it was too difficult to pursue or just because the police were too tired to act. Through our work with Equality Now, our cases have reached the desks of very high government officials.
These are not cases involving high profile women and girls from prominent families. With Equality Now, REEP is working to give a voice to the voiceless—illiterate women who are too poor to break their chains of bondage. Women who have given up and surrendered to negative self-image and low self-esteem. Today, these women and girls are able to speak out and demand their integrity and rights. The media, including international media, continues to do a superb job in highlighting issues of violence against women in Busia County and I am glad that county leaders are slowly joining the cause and speaking against violence on women.
Executive Director, Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme (REEP)