Stamping out sexual violence through improved coordination and accountability

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Michelle (second from left) having consultative meetings with the GBV project team

As Team Leader of the “Strengthening Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Kenya" project, Michelle Ell talks about the unique approach the team is taking by placing government at the forefront of response and prevention.

“The goal is really to strengthen the government’s ability to work better with other actors in the fight against sexual violence. We are actively engaging civil society organisations to determine potential points of partnership that government can leverage to scale solutions that are working.”

Michelle Ell, Team Leader of the Kenyan GBV project

Michelle Ell has been a beacon of hope for many through her efforts championing the rights of different vulnerable groups in East Africa where she has been living and working for the past 20 years. In that time, she has gained vast experience working with various USAID-funded programmes mostly focused on orphans and vulnerable children, systems-strengthening, and HIV care and support.

Today as team leader of the GBV Kenya project, Michelle is visibly excited about her new challenge and the unique programme she’s running, which she insists is the first of its kind in this space: “It is different from others because it’s really focused on strengthening the system for GBV prevention and response within the country.” The GBV project brings the national-level and county governments in the implementation areas (Bungoma, Kilifi, Samburu) together with the Finnish government, Kenya’s bilateral partner in achieving the challenging goal of first preventing and finally eradicating female genital mutilation and GBV from Kenya in less than four years – a truly ambitious if not inspirational goal.

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Michelle (right) and some of the team at the Inception meeting of the project

Putting government on the frontline of prevention

In past efforts to tackle GBV, investments have focused on supporting NGOs and encouraging civil society to lead the response with less emphasis and support on government leadership on the issue. But as Michelle explains, without government buy-in, it has been hard to support lasting change. As the systems for collaboration and accountability are not very well developed in Kenya, the team recognises the challenge they face. They have been focused on linking the different actors and working with stakeholders and government to recognise the unique role they play, particularly in the gender sector, by shifting mindsets through evidence-based approaches.

The programme is already helping government to use the currently available data to evaluate quality and effectiveness, and to identify priority villages, wards, and sub-counties based on GBV risk and vulnerability. They are also seeking ways to strengthen the functionality of the national and county Gender Sector Working Groups – efforts which could be transformational in the way that survivors, their families and communities are assisted. The programme plans to promote a variety of proven curriculums to address the root cause of gender-based violence. This outreach will be linked to hotspots where there have been frequently reported cases, the idea being to focus on the most vulnerable and build capacity, awareness and commitment for long lasting change.

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H.E. Wycliff Wangamati, Governor of Bungoma, signing a placard to symbolise the launch of the Kenya-Finland Bilateral GBV Programme

As the programme continues to take shape, Michelle prepares bi-weekly briefs for the governments of both Kenya and Finland, through which she highlights the key issues and opportunities as they emerge. In addition, she has a monthly meeting with Kenyan government officials and the Finnish embassy. Michelle also has the opportunity of direct access to government, sharing feedback from those working directly on the frontlines and innovations and data to guide improvements across the sector.

“I’m in a unique position where I can give voice to the challenges, and also champion solutions at the highest level,” Michelle says.

While the programme is still in the inception stage, the team has quickly gained the trust of and goodwill from stakeholders within USAID, EU, UN WOMEN and a range of civil society actors in Kenya.  In addition, the programme document, which was developed in pre-COVID 2019, is under-revision in light of the changing environment. COVID also highlighted the shortcomings of the systems in place, and the need for stronger national and county governments collaboration.

As Michelle points out, “The lack of coordinated effort between the different actors in the space ‒ as wonderful as it is that there is a lot being done ‒ is the biggest bottleneck to making sure resources within the sector are properly utilised.”

In all this, accountability for prevention and response efforts remains a key point of emphasis of the revised programme document even as more potential partners and stakeholders continue to show interest and are keen to see how aspects of the GBV project could be applied to other programmes and sectors.

Wende Luvinga Heinoja

Wende Luvinga Heinoja

Project Manager/Consultant

Helsinki, Finland

+358 9 83624211