Maryanne Kasina is a women's rights defender in Kenya. She is co-founder of the Kayole Social Justice Center, which fights against gender-based violence and police brutality. In an interview with Naïma Cottier, communication and fundraising assistant at PBI Switzerland, she demonstrates the current situation of women in Kenya and brings ideas to improve their lot.
Impact of the pandemic in Kenya
The pandemic has worsened the situation of women and girls in Kenya. Rising unemployment, lack of basic necessities, school closures and lockdown have negatively impacted domestic and emotional violence. Kasina underlines the long-term impact of schools that remain closed; most likely, school dropouts will increase as children have to work to help their parents meet their basic needs. As there are only a few jobs available, young boys are pushed to join youth gangs while some girls have to prostitute themselves. Many girls will never be able to return to school due to teenage pregnancy.
When asked what the government should do to improve the situation, Kasina's response is simple: he has to meet basic needs. This includes food, education, health care for all, safe shelters for women and more affordable housing.
“Poverty is violence. When there is poverty, there is violence ”- Maryanne Kasina
Lack of government support pushes human rights defenders like Kasina to fight for their rights. With six other women, she created the Kayole Social Justice Center. Regardless of the threats they receive from the police - the 'killer cops' as they call them - they defend women who are victims of gender-based violence or enforced disappearance. Their goal is to achieve justice by documenting cases and to give women protection, as well as mental and legal support.
Having to prostitute yourself to get menstrual products
The Kayole Social Justice Center also advocates for free menstrual products. In Kenya, menstrual products are considered a luxury good. Many girls simply cannot afford to buy them. As a result, many girls drop out of school as soon as they get their period. Other girls go so far as to prostitute themselves to obtain menstrual products. Their scarcity leads to too long use of these products, which often leads to infections. As in most parts of the world, menstruation is a big taboo. Some communities in Kenya regard menstruation as a bad omen and therefore forbid menstruating people from entering the kitchen or church.
To break with this stigma, the Kayole Social Justice Center organizes mentoring programs. The goal is to educate girls, boys and their parents about menstruation, reproductive rights and the right to be ashamed of your body. For lasting change, it's important to include all genders and ages, Kasina says.
"We demand sexual and reproductive rights as well as free menstrual products in all public spaces!" - Maryanne Kasina
Maryanne Kasina and the Kayole Social Justice Center receive support from PBI in their work. In close collaboration with social justice centers, PBI Kenya organizes leadership trainings and increases the visibility of issues in Kenya and internationally, while raising public awareness.