Gender based violence (GBV) and particularly gender-based violence directed towards girls and young women is not a topic that is freely addressed in the African context. Reasons range from it being culturally permissible in parts of our society, where girls and women for example, can and should be punished for their ‘mistakes’. While in other cases it’s a taboo to ‘wash’ a families or a couples' dirty linen in public therefore cases of violence are often ignored and overlooked in the name of protecting a family’s reputation. What’s more is that when the gender based violence discourse does come to the public arena, the conversation tends to take trivialized form where the act of violence is excused and rationalized to justify the need for the violent act in the given circumstance. It’s no wonder therefore that gender-based violence is on the rise.
In Kenya for example the Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill that was signed into law in 2013 and offers protection for victims (both male and female), however at the grass roots level we still need actors to initiate and facilitate sober discussions around GBV creating awareness on why it is wrong and how we can bring it to an end.
At the end of the day men need to know, understand and believe that beating their wives and daughters is wrong. Communities need to believe that a man beating his wife is not just a private domestic matter. And girls and women need to understand that there is no excuse ever for experiencing violence.
One such actor doing her bit to create transformational change in her community is 2015 Akili Dada Fellow, Yvonne Akoth. Yvonne runs a unique social change project that uses art as a tool to create awareness, and champion for an end to violence targeted towards girls and young women. We caught up with Yvonne to find out her motivations for initiating the Impart Change Africa Project, the successes of her project since joining the Akili Dada Family and why she chooses art as her tool of choice for advocacy against Gender Based Violence.
AD: Tell us more about ‘Impart Change - Africa’
Yvonne: Impart Change Africa is a project that uses art as a communication tool to create awareness, and champion an to end violence targeted at girls and young women. The project empowers young men and women with information, knowledge and skills on violence prevention that will enable them change their own mind-sets and those of members of their communities. We are championing for everyone’s right to live a life free of violence.
AD: Why use art as an advocacy tool?
Yvonne: Art is a creative and effective tool that has been used to communicate sensitive issues in the society that need to be highlighted and addressed. Kenyan youth are vibrant and passionate about various forms of Art and creativity. With the two factors in mind it made sense to use art to attract the young people my project targets. We draw upon their interests to express themselves through art and challenge them to use it as a tool to engage with their communities, championing for an end to violence targeted at girls and young women.
AD: What has the impact been so far?
Yvonne: Through the project we have been able to reach approximately 500 men and women with information on violence prevention. A young woman in the project for example, who was a victim and survivor of gender based violence, is now one of our most active champions working towards sharing information with fellow young women in similar circumstances. We hope that through her story these young women will also be free of violence or at the very least be empowered to prevent these instances of violence occurring against them. While with the young men in the project we have been able to draw out strategies of engaging fellow young men in discussions on ending sexual violence in their community.
AD: Who is your primary target and why do you work with them?
Yvonne: My primary target is young men and women from the hawking community and in the surrounding informal settlements. This is a unique target group as they are strategically placed to challenge stereotypes in our patriarchal society and are well placed to create awareness on the need to end gender-based violence in the community.
AD: How are you engaging the men?
Yvonne: Young men in the project are engaged through focus group discussions in spaces where they feel safe, free and comfortable to discuss respectful and supportive relationships. The discussions are important because when dialogue is initiated on why men engage in acts of violence what has followed is the will and action by the young men to prevent instances of violence within their circles.
AD: Why are you passionate about this work?
Yvonne: I am passionate about this work because I believe all forms of violence; especially gender based violence is considered to be the norm in our society yet is it a violation - this culture needs to and must come to an end. If not ended, it could worsen with dire social, cultural, economic and political consequences for our society.