Engaging local leaders to become women’s rights and victim advocates

The Coalition on Violence against Women (COVAW) in Kenya engages chiefs and other local leaders to become women’s rights advocates and resources for victims. The program was formed because of the lack of women’s rights advocates for women who have been subjected to violence. Women who have been abused usually turn either to local hospitals/clinics or to their chiefs. However, none of these groups were able to adequately meet the women’s needs and the Coalition on Violence Against Women wanted to change this.

Thirty-five chiefs from different communities, seeing the proposed project as an opportunity to improve their local reputation, volunteered to participate. Because COVAW had gained clearance from the government to work with the chiefs, the entire project had the law behind it, thus making it possible for the chiefs to perform their duties and defend their actions locally with support from human rights law. Two workshops were created: one that worked with the chiefs and the hospitals/clinics separately, and another that brought the two groups together to coordinate their efforts to advance women’s rights in their communities. After the workshops, the local chiefs became monitors and reporters. They now write down specific information relating to the cases of abuse and what steps they have taken to resolve the situation. Once each month they report to the Coalition, during COVAW site visits. 

Although hindered by challenges such as lack of resources on the local level, and the chiefs’ preference for sharing information verbally rather than in written form, the tactics have been useful to women and their local communities in Kenya. Women are treated better and more likely to receive the needed help. An interesting aspect of this tactic is the use of local resources and people ostensibly in power who, though previously unable to help the women, have through training become advocates of women’s rights. Another strength of the project is that since the chiefs benefit as well as the women, they are willing participants, helping to advance the tactic. 

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.