Having been betrothed to a stranger husband at the age of 11 through an arranged marriage, Evelyn Kiyeny had endured occasional battering that left her weak, at times seeking treatment from health facilities.
The beating is a form of discipline reserved for women who dare defy instructions from their husbands in the patriarchal pastoral society.
The battery became worse after every child birth, when the husband would stagger home drunk, demand for food and if not ready, it translated to an instant battering. It persisted till her fifth child was born.
Unable to bear it any more, she decided to run away from her matrimonial home, but the estranged husband followed her.
“My former husband tried to convince my father that I should go back to his homestead since he had paid the dowry in full. I remained defiant and one day, he came in the company of 11 other men. They pulled me out of the house, took me to a bush and whipped me in turns until I blacked out,” recalls 29-year-old Ms Kiyeny.
She says after the beatings she was unconscious for a while and when she recovered, the men who had retreated some few metres away. Thinking she was dead, they came over, carried her and dumped her at a local health facility at Nginyang Township before disappearing without uttering a word to the medics.
Ms Kiyeny says while at the hospital, she heard an inner voice warning of an imminent danger and commanding her to get out of the health facility and run for safety.
“The only place I knew I had a relative was in Tangulbei Township. Though it was a long distance from our home in Nginyang, I opted to endure the hardships. I slept in the bush hungry but was lucky, the following day, to be offered shelter by a Good Samaritan,” she explains through an interpreter since she has never stepped in a classroom.
For three days, she trekked through the wilderness of Baringo County to escape from an abusive marriage she had persevered for 15 years.
She was literally running away from death, having a few days earlier experienced a severe beating by 12 men who left her half dead.
On arriving at her relative’s place, hungry, sickly and exhausted, she was taken to hospital where she was admitted for a week.
Through support from a women network, which has more than 2,800 members spread across Tiaty East Sub-county, she has managed to pick up the pieces, reunited with her children and now operates a grocery shop at Tangulbei Township.
The Action Aid project has helped her gain economic empowerment and is aware of her rights. She is actively involved in campaign on women rights through Village Savings and Lending Association (VSLA) groups where women meet weekly for a community savings and lending scheme.
Many women and girls in her Pokot community remain victims of the deep-rooted culture that subject them to inhuman treatment.
Many have been rescued from forced marriage by the women network.
“We desperately need a rescue centre in each of the six sub-counties in Baringo if the fight against retrogressive cultural practice that adversely affect the lives of Pokot girls has to be won,” says Ms Charity Lemejan, the vice secretary to Tangulbei Women Network.
Hostile and violent
“Girls are being abused day in day out. We have few children protection officers in the county with one serving three expansive sub-counties. At times, rescue missions abort since the community turns hostile and violent,” says Irene Chepkoi, a children officer based at Kabarnet Town.
The county also lacks enough charitable children institutions where rescued girls can be housed for safety, care and access education.
Ms Chepkoi says they are collaborating with other stakeholders to train child protection volunteers who can sensitise community at the villages and also report cases of child abuse.
“We have been supported by Action Aid to train volunteers based at the villages to educate the community and monitor cases of child abuse, since women who should be vocal about this vice, still believe it’s acceptable. Another approach we are using is reaching out to the community through community radio stations to educate the public on the rights of a child and how he or she can be protected,” she explains.