By Light Juma, AMWIK
“Each time Kilifi County is mentioned in the media, it is either associated with high cases of Gender Based Violence or negative politics. We need to change this narrative as the civil society movement, media and the county government of Kilifi”- Kilifi Gender County Secretary during the launch of Women on the Move against GBV in Kilifi.
This statement might not be far from the truth. A research conducted by Plan International in 2012 puts child marriage in Kilifi at 47 per cent, one of the highest reports of child pregnancy leading to school dropout in the County.
Poverty has been linked to early marriages, where young girls become easy targets of sexual violence, and/or in a bid to escape the harsh realities, young girls find themselves pregnant and are forced to marry and/or parents/guardians give off their children for bride price. This is why the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) with support from Mundo Cooperante is implementing the Right to be A Girl Project in Kilifi County that aims to impact on the reduction of child marriages through community media, social media and art.
AMWIK using its flagship radio listening concept is empowering both girls and boys on their role in ending child marriages in Kilifi County. Over 400 students in four primary schools including Kibokoni, St. Andrews, Majivuni and Upweoni began listening to the Wajibika radio drama series. The audio drama documents the life of a young girl in the Coastal area who is struggling to go to school and must fight intentions from her father and the society to marry her off to keep her in school.
AMWIK trained eight teachers from the participating schools in August 2019 who will throughout the project act as moderators for the listening sessions. Through a partnership with the local administration, Corporal Marian Hussein, a police officer in charge of the gender desk at the Malindi Police Station, trained the participants on the Standard Operating Procedures on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence. The teachers were informed of their roles especially as key stakeholders in reporting cases of early marriages involving students in their schools. They were also taken through the court proceedings and prosecution of sexual violence cases by Victor Alunga of the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions in Kilifi County.
The teachers were then introduced to the use of the radio listening concept and trained on how to operate the radios, conduct the listening sessions and generate discussion points from the drama series. They were also briefed in detail about the project activities and work plan, which include the drama series listened to and discussed through school based radio listening sessions, and essay competitions for students participating in the project.
The pupils and the administration received the programs with enthusiasm and excitement. Mr. Benard Kalu, the head-teacher from Majivuni Primary School attended one of the listening sessions in his school and appreciated that the program would empower students on a topic seldom discussed by parents. “From the feedback we are getting, the programs are really useful and educational for the students and we are really appreciative”, remarked Mr. Athman Kofa, the head-teacher of Upweoni Primary School.
Local Media Journalists —the community’s source of information
AMWIK’s mission is to use the media to promote an informed and gender responsive society in Kenya and Africa. It was therefore imperative for us to engage the local media in Kilifi County to further advocate for the abandonment of child marriages through well researched stories and encouraging follow up of cases highlighted in the media.
AMWIK trained nine community journalists on the role of media in educating the public of the dangers of early child marriages and its effects on the girls, families and the community as well. The journalists were taken through topics that included; an overview of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), media coverage with a focus on cases of teenage pregnancies, child marriages, rape and defilement cases and other SRHR.
The journalists had a chance to introspect and ask themselves how the media in the region has played a role in highlighting these issues to the public. At the end of the training, most of the journalists pledged to play a more active role in covering child marriages by being more thorough in their reporting and ensuring follow up stories of the cases to ensure justice is served to the victims.
“I have learnt that media has a vital role to play on issues of girl child marriages and that as a journalist, I have to be part of the solution and not the problem”, remarked Liz Atieno from Radio Jahazi.
AMWIK is set to run this project for a year. The radio listening sessions will run from September to November 2019. After the listening sessions, AMWIK will engage the students in an essay and drama competition to test their understanding of the topic and award the top three winners from each of the participating schools.