According to United Nations Women nearly 7 in 10 women across the world will experience violence in their lifetimes. Each year, the UN hosts the Commission on the Status of Women (57th UNCSW) – the largest and most diverse gathering of its kind, bringing together advocates, scholars, policy-makers, and cultural and religious leaders to address the tremendous challenges, and promising opportunities for women and girls from around the world working to end violence against women. The priority theme for this year was the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, a theme foundational to the work of Heshima Kenya.
Sixty percent of the girls and young women that Heshima Kenya serves are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, though this percentage is believed to be closer to eighty percent as many do not report incidents. Many have fled from various forms of sexual exploitation, ranging from sex trafficking, prostitution, forced marriage, early pregnancy and female genital mutilation – leaving behind all that was familiar in pursuit of safety and security. These traumatic situations are often heightened in war-torn countries, where rape is used as a weapon to torture, humiliate and control. Despite these difficult beginnings, the girls and young women of Heshima have found new community, hope, and dignity – inspiring stories that Heshima Kenya was privileged to share at this year’s Commission.
We were honored to present on a panel entitled, Women’s Leadership: Transforming Violence Against Women, comprised of experts, activists and academics working at the intersection of new media and non-profit communications. Heshima spoke to the importance of innovative media in building public awareness around the complex challenges and compelling stories of the urban refugee girls we support in Nairobi, Kenya. We shared how our new website provides a platform for the women and girls of Heshima to tell their own stories of survival and healing. We highlighted our Hope for Heshima campaign, our online newsletter which spotlights the resilience and courage of these girls, and links their stories to international human rights days focused on women’s issues – an excellent opportunity to connect Heshima’s girls to the struggle of women across the world. You can receive the Hope for Heshima newsletters by signing up for updates on our homepage.
In addition, one particularly urgent theme at this year’s CSW was the need to fully educate and engage men in ending violence against women. At a powerful panel gathering organized by Feminist.com, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams rightly expressed that the vast majority of violence against women is carried out by men – there can be no real and lasting progress without the struggle and solidarity of men alongside us. Thankfully there were a number of positive media campaigns led by men, or focused on engaging men and boys that we were introduced to at CSW including Ring the Bell, and the Man Up Campaign, that we look forward to learning from and partnering with into the future.
CSW provided a sense of solidarity from women across lines of culture and faith that is difficult to find but once a year at the UN. We came away inspired by the tireless efforts of those who educate and put themselves at risk for a world free from violence. This is a rare opportunity for a global conversation that Heshima Kenya hopes to contribute to for years to come.