Sauti Dada Africa, Kenya
Kenya is experiencing a myriad of planetary and environmental risks that are impacting livelihoods and socioecological systems. Extreme drought and floods are causing devastation, in example, Lake Baringo - at the border of Pokot and Tugin - swelled over three kilometres and displaced more than 1000 people. As a result, roads were extremely affected and lack of shelter and income to construct over houses left many without a home. Changes to the climate, highlighted by Lillian Noweli (Founder of Sauti Dada Africa), has also impacted flowering of many plants in communities resulting in virtually no bees creating honey to be harvested by women in communities. Climate change is further exacerbated by local conflicts and insecurity facing many communities. Local tribal tensions and bandits have frequently attacked many areas, resulting in families becoming displaced. Issues of peace and insecurity have hugely effected women as men have to move to look after and protect livestock. Sadly, many men have been killed as a result of conflict, leaving women widows.
Image taken by Lillian Noweli during the Sauti Dada program Schools Anti-FGM club.
Within these crises, Sauti Dada Africa, in Kenya, was formed to be the voice of girls (Sauti in Swahili means ‘voice’) and work against the multiple forms of gender-based violence affecting girls in a male-dominated society: female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and domestic violence. This is achieved through by getting as many girls as possible into school to protect them from violence while simultaneously encouraging educational achievement. Along with placing girls in schools, Sauti Dada Africa run anti-FGM campaigns, mentorship clubs for girls, sexuality education, as well as initiatives to monitor girls at risk. Beyond this, Sauti Dada Africa work on issues of maternal health and economic empowerment. To increase women’s independence, Sauti Dada initiated craft groups and bead-making enterprises, as well as, small-scale farming to support food security. Due to many tribal clashes and internal conflict, peace-making meetings have also been taking place.
The impact of COVID has been devastating in Sauti Dada’s working areas, due to three interlinked issues. Because of school and church closures, many girls lost their networks of support and places to escape from FGM and early marriage. In the Rift Valley alone, an estimated 5000 schoolgirls became pregnant as a result of closures. COVID has also increased cases of domestic violence due to the need for men and women to remain at home. Because markets and churches were closed, women were unable to get hold of food which resulted in many cases of violence against women. Many jobs were also lost during COVID, including those who worked at schools or in dispensaries and no source of income was available from markets. As a result, there was an increased incidence of malnutrition, infections, violence and child labour. Girls were also unable to access sanitary products, resulting in many cases of urinary tract infections.
Sauti Data helped girls identified as at risk of violence reach a rescue centre. The organisation also set up a food bank to provide food and participated in a monitoring system to track those at risk or facing challenges. COVID campaigns were also carried out including educating on safety measures. Importantly, Sauti Dada were also able to distribute jerry cans, soaps and jugs of water which could be stored for washing hands.
As a result of localised responses, Many women have been able to begin kitchen gardens with kale, maize and sweet potato in order to harvest nutritious food for their families. Through this initiative, women are now inspired to grow more diverse crops on bigger land in the future to improve their livelihoods, increased food security and their independence. This has also reduced issues of domestic violence caused by men’s rage for lack food within the home.
Within this group of women, Barpelo women, table banking has been initiated. This involves saving money through a ‘merry go round’ approaches and enabled many to gain enough money to go back to school.
The impact of the work of Sauti Dada on women and girls was best summated by Lillian Noweli at Sauti Dada:
“our girls are now role models within the communities, they are the change.”