Combating sexual Assault in Kenya: a lesson in empowerment
‘NO MEANS NO’ A unique approach in combating sexual assault in Kenya
‘No means No’, is a unique programme used in Kenya as a preventative response to sexual harassment and abuse of children at school; especially girls. Kenya has been facing an epidemic of sexual assault: it has been estimated that one in four girls and women have been frequently raped by their own friends and boyfriends. While different strategies such as enacting new legislation and establishing severe punishments for perpetrators have been introduced, with a retributive purpose, to respond to the rising levels of child sexual abuse, the ‘No means No’ Kenya intervention policy has approached the issue from a different perspective:
‘Building training capacity in human beings rather than building hundreds of police stations.’
(Catherine Maternowska, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti)
In this sense, this method favours the building of capacity in empowering both girls and boys. Training and education are deemed pivotal to the prevention of sexual assault and abuse of children at schools.
Empowering and educating, instead of blaming and shaming is the overarching objective.
Meanwhile, No Means No Worldwide (NMNW) is a global rape prevention organisation whose main goal is to end violence against children and women. Such a programme works in a way that local instructors are trained so as to be able to deliver their skills to students through class sessions, called ‘IMpower’. They also enter into partnerships with national existing local organisations that help implement the programme through the course curriculum, data collection and/or research methods.
Through the ‘No Means No’ programme, girls are empowered, rather than shamed. They are trained on the ways in which they can avoid ‘high-risk’ situations; the first way is done verbally, by saying ‘no’ and the second is used should the situation become more complicated, where they may be required to use self-defence skills. The programme includes a 12-hour curriculum for girls aged between ten and 20. Since research indicated that boys were often the perpetrators in schools, ‘No Means No’ believes that they should be part of the solution. As such, boys are taught topics such as respect for women, how to combat harmful stereotypes, the element of choice in committing the particular crime of sexual assault or abuse etc.
In a 2017 report, this ‘No Means No ‘ programme has contributed to a significant decrease of 51% in sexual abuse cases among school children trained by the program. 73% intervened in a sexual assault which prevented the completion of the act, whilst 50% of girls managed to stop a rape, a year after training. At this point, ‘No means No’ has been tested and has actually become a primary preventative tool to stop sexual harassment, assault and rape of school children. It has even led to projects which establish a similar initiative in Malawi as well as in Uganda.
But one is left to wonder whether formal education is the answer to a world free of sexual assault and abuse of children, or whether informal education, delivered by family members and local community networks are in fact the missing part of the jigsaw. In any case, the Kenyan experience has proved that sexual violence committed against school children can be better-prevented through a combination of local knowledge awareness, and empowerment through education. Perhaps other countries facing similar issues should take note of the ‘No Means No’ programme and its successes in Kenya.