Tech

This new hotline in rural Kenya helps protect girls from violence

Drought in a developing country can mean many things: a lack of water, a lack of food and nutrition, and a lack of economic growth that puts even more pressure on impoverished communities relying on farming for their livelihoods.

For women and girls, it also means a lack of protection. In Africa, women do 90% of the work of gathering water and wood. During a drought, they have to walk even longer distances to find potable water for themselves and their families. That makes them more susceptible to violence and attacks from men in remote areas — which often go unreported.

But a new initiative in rural northern Kenya turns to technology and members of the community to make the region safer, and put an end to gender-based violence.

The Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) program has launched a new hotline and "gender-support desk" in Wajir, northeastern Kenya. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, community members, police officers, health workers, and more have all joined forces to offer a toll-free number for girls who have been attacked, with the goal of bringing the predators to justice.

"In my community, if a girl is raped, we will give you an animal and that’s the end of the story," Sophie, the "oldest activist in Wajir," says in the video above.

The hotline initiative, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and led by humanitarian organization Mercy Corps, aims to change that.

When a girl calls the number, facilitators alert police officers and health workers who not only investigate the situation, but also provides the survivor with "moral and medical support." Once allegations are confirmed, the gender desk will help her bring the case to court.

Meanwhile, men who want to make a difference in the community — dubbed "gender champions" — are encouraged to speak out on local radio shows to denounce violence against women and promote gender equality.

While effective in its approach (and its specificity), this isn’t exactly the first hotline of its kind in rural Kenya to help girls. In 2014, for example, the Kenyan government launched a hotline to curb female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

Approximately 45 percent of women in Kenya between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence, according to USAID. In Wajir, there have already been 10 reported cases of rape this year. The severe drought, currently affecting 17 African countries for more than two years, has worsened the problem in northern Kenya, where there’s more rainfall than the rest of the country. People often engage in conflict over land and water, some of whom use violence against women as a way to send a message.

With the prevalence of mobile throughout the country, using a hotline to tackle the issue is a smart and impactful move.

"We will continue working on this until Wajir County will be free of gender-based violence, free from violation of human rights," Sophie says.

You can read more about the initiative and its impact here.

[H/T Thomson Reuters Foundation]

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