Trailblazing Against Gender-Based Violence

Picture: Betty Sharon (Centre) receiving her certificate from HE John Feakes, former High Commissioner Kenya and Patricia Murugami.

Gender-based violence continues to be a significant social issue and a violation of human rights, affecting women more than men due to society’s unequal distribution of power. In fact, WHO statistics suggest that 1 in 3 of women, worldwide, have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

In Kenya, the Coast region is worst hit by gender-based violence (GBV) with the brutality resulting in deaths, in some instances. Despite a myriad of challenges including; poverty, underreporting and poor management of GBV cases by the authorities, that create a thriving environment for GBV in the Coast, one woman stands tall and speaks unequivocally against the vice. Betty Sharon, Founder and Executive Director of the Coast Women in Development (CWID).

An Alumnus of Australia Awards, Betty undertook a short course in Building the Capacity African Women Leaders: Gender Inclusive Context at Flinders University in 2013. Through the short course, she gained various skills including gender analysis, policy drafting and gender budgeting. She also learnt relevant skills in project planning and management. These skills have helped her in the administration of her organisation and in making evidence-based research contribution while engaging the county leadership on matters of gender and leadership.

Inspired by the ability to change lives Betty, a former Pharmaceutical technician, now finds joy in working to ensure that women and girls in the Coastal region are accorded an equal opportunity to grow and develop. Through her organisation, Betty has championed initiatives that have helped community members eke out a living, regain their self-worth and, complement development efforts in the community. In 2011, Betty initiated an economic empowerment programme for widows and women affected by HIV/AIDS. The program helped them make money through the rearing of goats and selling goats by-products. As at 2017, over 118 households had benefitted from this initiative. Furthermore, the Mombasa government, one of the counties in the coastal region, has come on-board to up-scale and create a multiplier effect in the number of families that benefit from this initiative. Her work has also extended to facilitating training that helps women understand how to prevent sexual gender-based violence and the procedure of getting treatment and reporting cases when the violation happens.

Betty initiated Badilika (this means change in Swahili) a project aimed at rehabilitating convicted sexual offenders at the Shimo la Tewa Prison, in Mombasa. So far, she has reached 18 men, four of whom have since been released from prison and successfully integrated into their communities. Considering that men are often the perpetrators of GBV, Betty trains them on gender inclusivity, reproductive health and the importance of engaging women in decision-making. Currently, she has equipped 23 men who are ‘Gender Warriors’ and ambassadors against gender-based violence, working across five counties in the coastal region.

Despite this invaluable contribution, Betty says the work is not yet over. “There’s a need to create safe houses in Kenya to accommodate victims of GBV, for ease of follow-up. At the moment, it is not easy because there are no clear mechanisms to assist them. We also need advanced forensic labs to help in collecting and processing evidence for the swift prosecution of perpetrators” she says.

Being a defender of human rights has earned her numerous recognitions and accolades. Betty is a community advisor for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Countering Violent Extremism through Anti-Corruption in Eastern Africa. She is also part of the Gender and Labour thematic group under the Port and CSOs platform in Coast region. In appreciation of her efforts, her organisation received commendation for Africa NGO leadership, two years in a row from the Africa Leadership Awards.

Despite Kenya having passed various legislations to curb GBV, it is people like Betty who help give life to these regulations by creating a safe space for all, where rights are respected, and in turn, inclusive and sustainable development is achieved.

Betty is also member of the Australia Award Women in Leadership Network. The network is made up of over 350 female award Alumni who focus on leading change in their various spheres of influence, throughout the continent. For more information on the network, click here.

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