Minority and indigenous women in Kenya targeted for sexual violence, torture, and murder

By Shadrack Kavilu / Gáldu

Women from minority and indigenous communities are targeted for sexual violence, torture and killings specifically because of their ethnic, religious or indigenous identity, says a report by Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

The report launched recently during the International Women’s Day says that minority and Indigenous women are most vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence or social injustices compared to other women.

The report notes that discrimination against minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide is often experienced by women as physical violence.
Carl Soderbergh, MRG’s director of policy and communications notes that in war and in peacetime, minority and indigenous women are singled out for sexual violence because they are less protected and less able to complain.

In its most recent state of the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples, MRG documented cases from across the world showing how women from minority and indigenous communities often face disproportionately higher levels of violence and are targeted for attack in situations of conflict and in times of peace.
The impact of conflict on women, the report says is wide-ranging and that women are often the most likely to stay back and protect their families thus making them vulnerable to sexual violence.

In most cases, the report adds that women find themselves heading their households and struggling to find an income. They risk being coerced into sex work or having to offer sexual favours to be able to support their families.
It further notes that if displaced, women are at risk of being exploited by border guards and human traffickers.

Beyond these risks facing women in conflict, the report says women from minority and indigenous communities are specifically targeted for attack by both state forces and armed opposition groups.
These groups of women can face sexual and gender-based violence as a means of punishing their communities.

The report attributes the vulnerability of these women to poverty and marginalization.
“These women often come from poor socio-economic backgrounds and live in remote areas and they have little access to justice and in many cases face discrimination from the police and the judicial system because of their minority status and because of their gender,” adds the report.
Like other women, minority and indigenous women also face violence from within their own communities or their own families. Poverty and social and economic marginalization are some of the factors that contribute to the incidence of domestic violence within minority and indigenous communities.

Soderbergh, MRG’s director of Policy and Communications says while risking multiple abuses in many countries the struggle to stamp out sexual violence against indigenous and minorities is being led by minority women activists themselves, sometimes at serious risk to their own safety.
He however observed that though the International Women’s Day has helped highlight the scourge of violence against women around the world, development agencies, governments and human rights activists need to realise that not all women face the same obstacles, and that violence against women often has a particular ethnic or religious dimension.

According to another report titled Kenya at 50 which was launched by the same international human rights body, the rights of indigenous people continue to be violated despite enactment of laws protecting their right to identity and recognition.
The report which reviews the current status of minority and indigenous groups in Kenya particularly how legal and policy changes over the last five years have responded to the social, economic and political challenges notes that indigenous and minority groups are yet to realise their rights.
The report shows that on the 50th anniversary of Kenya’s independence, many minority and indigenous communities feel that despite some constitutional gains, increased ethnicity of politics has deepened their exclusion, making their situation worse today than it was in 2005.

“Despite the adoption of the new Constitution in 2010, very little has changed in the way the Kenyan state approaches the question of minorities and indigenous people,’ says Marusca Perazzi, MRG’s Governance Programme Coordinator.

During this period, Perazzi says forced evictions and other forms of harassment have continued to plague many minority and indigenous communities in absolute disregard of the new constitution.
Many minority and indigenous groups interviewed separately and in groups, feel issues affecting them, such as drought and state-induced landlessness to pave the way for industrialization, are not receiving enough media attention.

The report highlights that charges of trespass in the Rift Valley against pastoralist groups in Samburu and Naivasha have increased whenever the communities seek access to grazing grounds, even in what are considered community lands.

Daniel Kobei, executive director of Ogiek People’s Development Programme (OPDP), a local organization that advocates for the rights of the indigenous Ogiek people said the laws being considered for adoption by the National Assembly have betrayed a total lack of commitment to ensuring that indigenous and minorities are a functioning part of the new Kenya.
Kobei said the weak laws create fears among minority and indigenous communities that their recognition may not translate into real positive legislative and administrative developments.

For many years, Kobei says the Ogiek have suffered displacement or been threatened with eviction from their ancestral lands, in particular the Mau Forest and around Mount Elgon.

The report also highlights the plight of the Nubians in Kibera, an expansive human settlement known internationally for its poor sanitation and cramped living quarters. The community faces periodic violence pitting them against harsh landlords from majority communities, forced demolitions, evictions and an unclear citizenship status in Kenya.

To further show how minorities suffer unfair disadvantage in law and in practice, the government of Kenya has been reluctant to restore ownership to the Endorois people of their ancestral lands around the Lake Bogoria National Reserve, as recommended by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights two years ago.

The report calls on the Kenyan government to embrace pluralism and take special measures in support of minority and indigenous communities.

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