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Shifting male gender norms with religious leaders

17 May 16 Gender-Based Violence, Religion & Culture

Through a seed grant he won during the 2015 Women’s Health, Masculinities and Empowerment training programme offered by the MenEngage Africa Training Institute (MATI), Elias Muindi, Programme Officer for Kenya MenEngage Alliance (KEMEA), collaborated with Pentecostal Evangelical Fellowship of Africa church and the Kenya Network of Religious Leaders Living with HIV and AIDS (KENERELA) to sensitise religious leaders on the prevention of domestic violence, women’s empowerment and male involvement in issues of gender transformation.

He organised and hosted a workshop to build and strengthen the capacity of religious leaders on how to prevent domestic violence, promote women’s empowerment and facilitate male involvement.

The workshop was carried out in Nyakach sub-county, Kisumu County, in the Nyanza region, on the 31st of March 2016, and it was attended by a total of 34 religious leaders, comprising nine women and 25 men, from diverse denominations.

Two provincial administrators – both female – from two sub-locations in Nyakach also attended the workshop to represent the county government administration and to show their support and commitment to domestic violence prevention interventions.

Components of the workshop included:

  • Defining gender-based violence, with particular emphasis on domestic violence
  • Religion, culture and gender
  • Empowering women and girls, and male involvement
  • Role of religious leaders in ending domestic violence
  • promoting family harmony.

“We deem the training to have been a success as religious leaders who were in attendance agreed to include a component addressing gender-based violence and issues of gender transformation as crucial aspects in their pre-marital counselling activities for engaged couples in their churches. Some of them have recognised the relevance of addressing these issues and have undertaken to share what they have learned not only with the soon to be married or married couples, but with the singles groups in their ministries”, Muindi says.

But the work is not done and complete yet. Muindi plans to do more work with religious leaders in the region where he works. “Some pastors and church counsellors still adhere strongly to certain cultural beliefs and practices and some churches are still very conservative”, he says. “We will be engaging in more community mobilisation to create awareness and to address these issues.”

Muindi says the idea to work with religious leaders to prevent and address gender-based violence in the home came “mainly from the observation that religious leaders are responsible for conducting pre-marital counselling and post-marriage guidance”, which suggests that religious leaders have a meaningful and sustainable contact with couples.

Muindi further notes that “domestic violence is, and remains, one of the most common and prevalent forms of gender-based violence in our societies today and because this violence often occurs in a private setting such as the home, between two intimate individuals, intervention efforts are often difficult and ineffective”.

“Many women suffer physical and psychological hurt – sometimes fatally. To exacerbate the problem, this violence towards women and girls is often condoned by religious and traditional leaders, which is why religious are an important audience to work with”, he says.

According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey of 2014 (KDHS 2014), 49% of ever married women have experienced physical violence by a husband, 51% have experienced sexual violence, and 30% have experienced emotional violence. Overall, almost one half of ever married women (47%) have experienced some form of violence (physical, sexual or emotional) by a husband or life partner.

For the Nyanza region, where Muindi works, the report shows that more women reported higher levels of physical and sexual violence committed by a spouse or partner than women in other regions. Approximately one half have ever experienced physical violence compared to women from other regions.

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