Community Dialogues: Seeking solutions to SGBV gendered violence in Bungoma

Content Warning: Mention of Sexual gender based violence

In October, TICAH joined the communities of Tongaren, Sirisia, Webuye West and Kimilili in a week-long conversation about the underlying root causes of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in the county. As part of the community-led dialogues, cultural and community leaders held discussions about the various forms of SGBV that are prevalent in their county, main causes and the possible community-based solutions. The emphasis was on the social and cultural causes with an aim of finding home-grown solutions.

According to Kenya demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2022, Bungoma county ranked highest with 34% of women reporting to have experienced violence since the age of 15. 42% of these women were of ages 45-49 and 54% of the perpetrators being men. This means that the highest percentage of the violence occurred within marriages or intimate relationships. During the discussions, participants attributed the prevalence of domestic violence to a tradition known as “Kuvukisha mke jiko” which is phrase that has for a long time been used by the man to “test if the wife will stay long in the marriage”. Not very long after marriage, the man has to find an excuse to slap/beat the wife after which the wife runs back to her parents. The man is summoned, apologizes and they are advised to live peacefully. Residents of Bungoma said that this practice is not as rampant as before but still happens for certain homesteads. All the participants agreed that the practice is outdated, and they would take the initiative of sensitization the other community members against it.

SGBV within family setups was also attributed to low income levels. They cited situations where husbands lose the home leadership the moment they are unable to provide for their families fully. This would be worse if the wife begins to earn more than the man. Even though this would be seen as an economic factor, the group realised that it was a patriarchal problem masked as an economic problem The solution to this, the group suggested, was to sensitize the community that it is possible for the wife to provide more than the man or the man’s income to reduce without any loss of respect for one another.

This photo was taken during the community dialogue in Webuye West.

We learnt that, during circumcision, there are boys who were taken through the traditional process while some were circumcised in hospital. That means that some of them would miss the teachings offered during the traditional process. Those who went through the traditional process also do not recognize the ones who went through the hospital as full-grown up men. We also learnt that some parents preferred their boys to be circumcised in hospitals because they did not like some of the activities during the traditional process. One of the issues raised in the meeting was that some of the statements boys are told were easily misinterpreted. For instance, the boy would be told to “avoid all doors that are closed but go for those that are open”. This means that they should avoid married women and go for the single one. However, because the statement was never explained, boys interpreted it differently. For some, it also meant that all single women and girls are theirs. For such a young man, he would not take a “no” for an answer from a girl or a single woman resulting in rape. The leaders of circumcision rituals agreed that they would do a meeting with their fellow circumcisers to elaborate in their teachings and include talks about SGBV during the traditional rituals. They also agreed to hold meetings with the church leaders who organize hospital circumcision so that all the young men circumcised in the same year can have a common forum for elders to talk to them about being responsible men and husbands.

Having identified the causes and possible solutions, the cultural leaders formed a committee of facilitators to develop a work plan and steer the community campaigns. A committee of 6 representatives was formed in each of the four sub-counties. TICAH led the committees in developing a work plan and budget for the proposed community engagements. The activities, derived from the proposed solutions to the causes of SGBV in their respective areas, included sensitization campaigns during the chief’s public gatherings, during market days, church gatherings, women group meetings, youth soccer tournament (specifically in Sirisia) and during the cultural meetings such as the gathering of the traditional circumcisers.

The community-led dialogues began on 20th October which coincided with the Shujaa national holiday. The committees in Sirisia and Tongaren got the opportunity to address the sub-county meetings in their areas. The activities have attracted the attention of residents of the county and the local media, and have given them an opportunity to highlight social and cultural practices that they never thought were contributing to the various forms of SGBV.