Goretti returned to western Kenya in 2001 to bury her husband and, as dictated by local culture, remained in the family’s homestead. “But they wouldn’t give me food. Everything I came with from Nairobi – clothes, household items – was taken from me and divided between the family,” she recounted. For nearly 20 years after her husband’s death, Goretti was trapped in a life of abuse until her in-laws they beat her so badly that she was hospitalized and unable to work. Afraid to go to law enforcement, Goretti instead reached out to a local human rights defender, who helped her get medical attention and report the case to the local authorities.
They wouldn’t give me food. Everything…was taken from me and divided between the family – Survivor
However, she quickly discovered that her in-laws had already forged with the police an agreement in her name to withdraw the case. “But I cannot even write”, Goretti said. Human rights defenders in Kenya are often the first responders to violations, including GBV. Since 2019, UN Women and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have been supporting grass-roots organizations that provide legal training and capacity-building to better assist survivors. In addition to reporting the issue to local police and the courts, human rights defender Caren Omanga, who was trained by one of these organizations, also contacted the local elders.
“I was almost arrested when confronting the officer-in-charge”, Ms. Omanga explained. But knowing that the community would be against Goretti, she started “the alternative dispute-resolution process, while pushing the case to court”.
Finally, with her case settled out of court, Goretti received an agreement granting her the property and land title that she had lost in her marriage dowry, and the perpetrators were forced to pay fines to avoid prison.
“It is like beginning a new life after 20 years, and my son is feeling more secure… I’m thinking of planting some trees to safeguard the plot and building a poultry house”, she said.