Kenya: Female Human Rights Defenders Suffer Sexual Harassment at Work

Women human rights defenders (HRDs) suffer from sexual harassment at their workplace, destabilising their mental health even as they put themselves on the line for other Kenyans whose rights have been violated.

A study on Promoting Wellbeing, Mental Health and Self-care for Women Human Rights Defendersin Kenya, which sampled 200 women HRDs, found sexual harassment to be an institutional stressor that affected their work.

Ironically, this practice was attributed to “deeply entrenched human rights cultures or the socio-economic and political structures in which the human rights field is embedded,” of which the HRDs are devoted to dismantle.

Further, the study by Wanjeri Nderu in partnership with Defenders Coalition and Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, found that about 40 per cent of the interviewed had been victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) or know a colleague who has, courtesy of their work.

“My colleagues and I were detained in Nakuru Prison for fighting for the land rights of the Ogiek community and we were actually tortured,” one of them is quoted in the report.

Non-supportive families

These challenges, in addition to financial distress, high expectations from the communities they serve and non-supportive families drive them into psychological distress.

One of the women HRDs said she gets frustrated when her “comrades are going hungry and struggling to make ends meet,” yet when a survivor seeks their help, they expect them to cover their expenditures.

As a result, many have been pushed to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme insomnia, anxiety, burnout, paranoia and irrational fear. Others miscarry or are prompted to procure abortions.

Ms Nderu said some have found themselves immersing in bhang and alcohol abuse in their struggle to find solace.

“It gets to a point where we vent our frustrations on our loved ones,” she said during the launch of the report in Nairobi, last Friday.

Substance abuse

“In extreme scenarios, they attempt suicide. In some cases, they have actually killed themselves.”

She called for deliberate efforts to create a safe space for the women HRDs to seek help.

“We want therapists who understand us, not the ones who tell us to stop being HRDs. We want those who have a little understanding of what it is we are about,” she said.

Counselling psychologist Albert Migowa, said for the women HRDs to safeguard their mental health, they must identify triggers that destabilise their wellbeing and find an immediate solution.

“As a human rights defender, you come across a myriad of issues like SGBV and drug and substance abuse,” he said during the launch.

“As you are engaging in your activism, you must have a system. What is your purpose? This is important because it helps you to know your boundaries… remember you are not in the business of solving everyone’s problem. Your work is to advocate.”


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Author : Nation

Publish date : 2021-10-14 07:54:17

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