Kenya: ‘Talking Boxes’ Head to Parliament to Rescue Girls

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Nairobi Women Representative, Esther Passaris will soon present to Parliament, a policy evidence report to strengthen the Sexual Offences Amendment Bill 2016.

The document by Polycom Development Project, a community-based organisation in the city’s Kibra Sub-county, highlights the reality of the devastating ravages of sexual harassment and abuse meted out against girls and children.

It also seeks to influence the 2016 Sexual Offences Amendment Bill by Busia County Women Representative Florence Mutua that was thrown out of Parliament for lack of evidence.

“It is informed by data from 50 schools in Kibra’s informal settlements in the ‘Talking Boxes Initiative,’ a heart-to-heart-sharing through anonymous notes dropped in boxes,” says Polycom founder director, Jane Anyango.

During its launch at Ngong Hills Hotel, Nairobi on March 6, Ms Passaris committed to hand the document over to the Clerk to the National Assembly for MPs to debate on it.

Biggest slum

In a separate interview, Ms Anyango tells nation.africathat more than 5,000 adolescent girls in Kibra benefited from mentorship and psych-social support at the peak of Covid-19 pandemic, last year through the ‘Talking Boxes’ initiative.

The primary and secondary girls in the biggest slum in the country, got an opportunity during the nine months of lockdown last year, to meet and express their views in the ‘Talking-Boxes.’

Some 30 cases of early pregnancies were reported, with some girls being counselled and registered to undertake vocational training programmes.

According to the director, the initiative was started in 2015 with 50 schools including Toi and Ayany primary schools, among others, as partners in three of the six villages in Kibra Constituency that included Lindi, Gatwekera and Kianda villages. Polycom is currently handling 10 pregnant adolescent girls.

At the height of the pandemic, some teachers requested Polycom team to also support them with face masks, soap, food, sanitary pads and psycho-social support.

Community engagements

“Demand for our services increased because of the rise in gender-based violence, sexual abuse and personal needs of the girls that required psycho-social support. We couldn’t have small meetings anymore, so we had to have community engagements in social and church halls,” says the director.

Working with a team of 12 mentors, Ms Anyango met and mentored the girls who shared their experiences, frustrations and hope for the future by writing them on pieces of paper and dropping them in the ‘Talking-Boxes,’ made of tin.

The girls shared some horrifying stories including abuse by their close relatives including their fathers, uncles, guardians and other relatives. Others spoke of physical abuse and sexual harassment by boda-boda operators.

Marline Atieno, one of the mentors says that in her class of 12 to14-year-olds, she had cases of defilement with none of the victims accepting a follow up on their cases for fear of victimisation.

She talked to them about sexuality, early pregnancies, relationships, gender-based-violence among others. There was also an open session where the girls were encouraged to ask questions.

Body odour

Between 100 and 150 secondary school girls also attended the sessions. Through the ‘Talking Boxes’, most of them were concerned about menstruation, sex, contraceptives; abortion and relationship issues with their parents and boyfriends among others.

Primary school girls were most concerned about body odour and changes, relationships and sexual and reproductive health.

Though largely successful, Ms Atieno points at minor set-backs. When schools reopened, they visited to assess the state of the ‘Talking Boxes’ but found that some had been damaged.

Given their impact, most of the girls have appealed to the organisation to extend the initiative to neighbouring schools, saying it had empowered them to study harder and face life with confidence.

Polycom is working on a book, Guide Bookon Safe-Guarding the Adolescent Girls Against Sexual Harassment.

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