As part of its work in Kenya, the Equal Rights Trust and its partner the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya) are helping community based organisations provide legal assistance to thousands of women across Kenya. Belice Oyanji is a member of the community based organisation Tuone Mbee which works in Makueni, East Kenya. Below she explains how the organisation helps women in the area.
What are the main issues women bring to Tuone Mbee?
There are a lot of cases concerning violence and land rights as well as other discrimination cases. Of course, these issues are not just restricted to this area but are issues encountered by women across the whole of Kenya. Before we started working on litigation cases, Tuone Mbee was raising awareness on HIV/AIDS but since we started working with the Equal Rights Trust and FIDA, we have learnt a lot about the law and it has given us knowledge to handle different cases.
How do you think Tuone Mbee is making a difference to women's lives in the area?
The project is helping women a lot. It is raising awareness in the community and it is helping individual women. The situation is getting better for women in Kenya now, because they have learned their rights.
A few years back, the poorest women in the village were like slaves, doing all the work. If you came to my community you could find them carrying water on their backs and their children on their front, and the men would sometimes stay in the market playing - but now this has changed. When we talked to them, we told them we are equal and we can’t carry all the burden. Now there are so many women who understand their rights, and they share the work at home. There are now just a few men remaining who don’t understand this.
Could you give an example of a particular success Tuone Mbee has had?
A woman came to our office, complaining that her in-laws had beaten her. They tied her up with ropes and put her in a vehicle. We advised her to go to the village chief and to the hospital to show evidence of how she had been beaten. So when she came to our office after the medical, we told her to go and stay with her parents until this issue had ended.
Later we found out no action had been taken against the in-laws. We accompanied her to the police station, along with a letter from the hospital and we advised her to go to court. When she went to court, her in-laws disappeared from town, but after a few days the police carried out the investigation and brought them to court and the issue was resolved. The in-laws accepted they were guilty and the judge sentenced them to jail for five months.
Later, the lady’s husband came to us and said he didn’t know there are organisations who can help people like that. Since this time they have always remembered us and they have now become friends of Tuone Mbee.
What additional support could help you reach more women?
We would like to learn more about the law, to have some materials to support Tuone Mbee members. It is also extremely useful to train more community members, so that we can have more paralegals. With more people trained, when we meet challenges we know how to solve them and we can raise more awareness.