The Kuria community is mainly patriarchal. Girls are prone to Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM ) early marriages, polygamy, and wife battering. Until recently girl child education was not a priority in the community and preference was given to boys. In recent years the community has been empowered and the situation is gradually changing.
Being married into a polygamous union of four wives, Jane Wangwi experienced discrimination and neglect from her husband, who favoured the other wives because they had girl children who are seen as a source of wealth through dowry.
“I was married while still young as a third wife and went through gender based violence. As a woman I was expected to cook, wash, graze the cows, do farm work, activities considered to be feminine in nature. I would plant in sweet potato, millet, and sorghum farms and did not even get to visit different areas for exposure. My husband rarely helped in the farm” she says
Apart from too much work Jane, a mother of 7 also went through physical abuse and she regrets not knowing her rights at the time. Even when pregnant she was still expected to do unbearable farm work and household chores that left her worn out.
“My husband used to batter me frequently and did not sympathise with me when I was tired or pregnant. I was supposed to wake up early every morning to accompany him to plough the farm even when I feeling unwell. One day when I was 7 months into my pregnancy, I woke up 10 minutes later than the usual time. I took my young baby who was one year old and put him on my back and ran to the shamba. My husband had not even done a row but he got so angry and beat me. I fell and fainted with the baby on my back. He called for help and I was taken to hospital for examination. I have gone through this kind of physical abuse so many times and I was very unhappy.”
During this time Jane asked for advice from her friends. One of her neighbours happened to be the chairlady of a Goceso network- a women group that partners with ActionAid to empower women living in poverty and exclusion to know their rights. Jane joined the group and started attending meetings and trainings organised by ActionAid.
ActionAid educated Jane and the other women in the group on the new constitution, their rights and entitlements as women. She was advised on the avenues to follow to seek justice.
“After being empowered, I have asked my husband to accompany me to court for hearing of our cases because our group is also made up of paralegals. During the court sessions he has realised that the constitution of Kenya protects a woman and that violators are punished by law. I have also been trained on human rights and equality among genders and I have talked to my husband on the same.”
“Now I am aware of my rights. I know that I am not subordinate but equal and able to hold leadership positions. I know I should not undergo physical, emotional or social abuse. My husband knows this and does not abuse me nowadays. I am hardworking and do not need to be beaten to be responsible.”
“Recently, my step daughter was beaten by her husband with a cow yoke and my husband was very angry. He reported the matter to the administration and they are looking into the case. I am happy because he now understands that a woman should not be beaten. If it had happened a while back he would have chased her back to her husband.”
“Nowadays I can do my duties without fear. I can even travel and go for training and seminars with other women. Recently I went to Kongelai with Goceso women group for an exposure visit that was sponsored by ActionAid. I am now knowlegeable.”
Jane also knows the value of education and has taken her children to school so that they can have a good future. “My husband has 36 children and none of my co-wives children have gone past primary school. The girls get married very early. I know education is important so I have single handedly taken my children to school. All my children are in school except the last born who is three years old.”