Tuesday, 25 June 2013 18:45

The untold story of women’s voice in the Tana River Clashes Featured

Written by Robert Nyagah

At the height of the Tana Delta violence which left over 100 people dead when the Pokomos and the Ormas  clashed, some daring women stepped in to promote peace and dialogue between the warring communities.

 

Tana River women leader, Doris Godhana, of the Sauti Ya Wanawake (Voice of the Women) organisation, says dialogue and village monitoring conflict committee mainly made of volunteer women helped to forestall the spread of conflict and bloodshed during the clashes over six months ago.

Godhana’s organisation has been fighting for the rights of women and girls since 2002, and had launched campaigns for women rights after realising that women were being neglected.

“When fighting started, we founded peace committees from village to district level, all which brought all stakeholders and workers through volunteers from the Pokomo and the Wardei communities to  monitor foreigners from the Tana Delta and ensure that the conflicts, which caused the blood bath, were not imported to the District,” says Godhana.

Looking back, the women leader is proud that they gave dialogue between the Wardei and the Pokomo, the two predominant communities in the Tana River a chance and succeeded.

The two neighbours have a history of conflict over grazing ground and access to the waters of Tana River especially for livestock.

Consolidated

Admitting that the training workshop offered much guidance on issues of peace building, Godhana says that what became even more consolidated from her earlier skill is the need for stakeholders at conflict prone areas to first identify the cause of conflict and build team work to handle issues of such conflict.

She admitted that although in the past her group held successful forums to build peace; she had learned that more partnership needed to be built between all stakeholders and especially the youth who  are mostly used to promote violence.

“I now know that if I wish to promote peace, it is important to involve all stakeholders including non governmental organizations, community based organisations and even the media,” said Godhana.

She says that organisations from outside conflict areas are able to provide guidance on how to deal with conflict without bias hence the need to include them in peace building efforts.

The women leader admitted that research and survey had revealed that whenever conflict arose, it was women and children who suffered most.

“The women and children may not  be attacked, but during conflicts they become easy targets of gender based violence including defilement, rape, forced marriages and displacement to unfriendly and  unhealthy environments where trauma and suffering at times become overwhelming.”

International Rescue Committee (IRC) is an organisation that is keen to ensure that women in conflict-prone areas in Kenya were fully enlightened on peace-building skills right from the homestead to    community level irrespective of what drawbacks hindered their campaigns to fight against conflict and violence.

Manuals

The IRC has generated training manuals for various beneficiaries and  each trained group was expected to spread the skills to target groups.

IRC worked closely with the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW) which was mobilizing community activists in conflict hot spots to identify the causes of conflict and come up with strategies to reduce and eliminate violence altogether by use of simplified means of dialogue suitable for each given area.

Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK), a project of IRC sponsored by USAID focuses on the particular risks  that women face in conflict and the specific contributions that they can make in the promotion of a  peaceful society.

One such program fostered a protective and peaceful environment before and during the 2013 Kenya elections.  The program continues to work  with communities through existing local and national networks to respond to and prevent conflict. Community leaders are trained to disseminate information and messages on key topics including the election process,  conflict mitigation and gender-based
violence.

Hot spots

According to Phoebe Omondi (now deceased), the seven organisations operated under the PIK project in 18 counties considered to be hot spots based on what happened in 2007-2008 during the  post-election violence and each organisation played a role to play in promoting peace and fighting violence under a 14-month program set to end in September 2013.

The organizations included Sauti Ya Wanawake, Federation of Women Lawyers of Kenya (FIDA-Kenya),  COVAW, the Rural Women Peace International (North Rift) Peace Net, AWC, Well Told Story and USAID.

Although the program initially targeted the General Election, a wide range of awareness on the need to avoid conflict and violence has been achieved through several peace platform forums in Tana River  and Kilifi Counties. The meeting was organised by COVAW.

The training programs promoted a unified approach by all stakeholders to dialogue and exchange ideas on  ways and means to build peace first by identifying causes of conflict, deal with indicators in a   bid to forestall violence.

Notable successes were reported in Mt Elgon conflict which was forestalled through skills impacted on various groups in the region where women groups were trained to identify  causes of conflict and fight to forestall violence through dialogue and whistle-blowing.

Omondi noted that since the program started there have been many success cases with gender based violence cases showing a downward  trend in many parts of Kenya. Women, it was noted, had learnt how to work with health experts to deal with reproduction issues emanating  from Gender based violence where issues of health and the law become incorporated in campaigns to ensure that suspects were arrested and charged in court.

But perhaps the most successful section of the training, according to the conflict specialist, is the ease at  which the special power posters and question or message cards have been received and adopted.

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