Empowering Futures: Mombasa Young Mothers’ Fight Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

By Habiba Wakio

Jacinta dragged her feet towards the bathroom, tears rolling down her cheeks. She flinched as she scrubbed her body. Sobbing, she turned on the shower and let the warm water wash away her tears and her husband’s lingering scent. The image of this morning’s ordeal was imprinted in her mind. Her husband had slapped and dragged her by her hair when she refused to meet his demands.

“I am your husband!” he’d shouted, as if she needed a reminder of her marital status. “You cannot deny me my right. This is your duty.” He had pinned her down and forced himself on her. She tried pushing him away but had failed to dislodge him. The man was huge and muscular. She could not believe that her life had turned into a joke. How could destiny be so cruel? Yes, she had made the mistake of mixing education with pleasure, but did she not deserve a second chance? Having lost her parents at a young age, she lived with her maternal uncle, but that changed when she brought the news home.

“I cannot raise you and your child,” her uncle said. “I do not want to carry that burden.” Her heart had sunk. Where was she to go? What was to become of her?

She knelt before   his feet. “I am sorry, uncle,” she apologized. “I know what I did was wrong, but I did not mean to hurt you. It was not my intention to tarnish your reputation. Please give me another chance. I do not have anywhere else to go.”

“You do. Go to the one responsible for your pregnancy. Let him take care of his responsibility.”

She had been sent away from school and, afterwards, the only home she knew. That was how she had ended up in her matrimonial home. Her husband did not understand her mood swings. Moreover, he did not care about her cravings, and she slept on an empty stomach whenever he asked her to prepare a meal she did not like.

“You brought this upon yourself,” Jacinta whispered to the image staring back at her in the mirror, as her eyes momentarily dropped to the scratches on her arms and back to the image on the mirror. “Better get used to your new life.”

When Matthew returned, he demanded for food. Jacinta had not cooked because there was nothing to cook, and he had not left any money. She explained the matter to him.

“What is your work in this house if you cannot find ways of making me happy? There was no money, you say. Couldn’t you find a way to get some? Life is hard. I cannot look after you and that thing you are carrying.”

Realizing what was about to happen, Jacinta closed the distance between her and her husband, pleading, holding his hands, “Please don’t send me away.”

Matthew pushed her away. Jacinta knocked over a stool. She whimpered as she fell, but the sound did not bother her husband. “I made a mistake by accepting you,” her husband said. “I don’t want to see you when I return.” With that, he left without glancing at her sprawled frame on the floor.

Inhaling and exhaling deeply, Jacinta lay still, attempting to suppress the ache in her heart and the throbbing at the back of her head. When she felt a little stable, she shifted to her side, using her hands to support herself as she prepared to rise. However, as she was about to lift herself from the floor, her hands came into contact with something damp. Confused by the source of the wetness, she inspected her hands and discovered them smeared with blood. Panic set in as her gaze swiftly moved to the area between her legs, revealing her maternity dress soaked in a pool of blood. A scream escaped her lips upon realizing the potential implication of the blood.

The door flew open. Dorothy, her cousin rushed in. “Jacinta! Oh, no! What happened?”  Realizing the gravity of the situation, Dorothy ran to the door shouting, “Somebody help! Someone, please help us!” Then she ran back to help Jacinta stand up. “We have to go to the hospital,” she said.

When they reached the door, Jacinta’s neighbour, Samuel, was there to help. With his help, Dorothy rushed Jacinta to the hospital.  Dorothy paced up and down in the waiting area while Samuel kept looking at his watch at the hospital. After what seemed like forever, the doctor came to inform them that the patient had lost her baby and would need their support. They went to see her. Eyes glistening, Dorothy embraced her cousin.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you,” Dorothy apologized. “I should have come to see you sooner.”

“I am sorry, too. I should have told you what was going on when we spoke on the phone. Maybe this would not have happened. I would not have lost my baby.”

“I am sorry as well,” said Samuel. “I should have been a better neighbour. I didn’t know what you were going through.”

“I am the one to blame,” Jacinta insisted. “Where will I go now?”

“I know just the place,” replied Dorothy.

She told her cousin about a community-based organization, Mombasa Young Mothers, whose aim was to provide a safe space for young mothers and adolescent girls to share their experiences without being victimized, judged, stigmatized, or even discriminated against based on their status. However, in this organization, young mothers and adolescent girls could   find sustainable solutions to their problems.

The organization also worked to prevent and stop sexual violence and abuse against adolescent girls, young mothers, and their children, as well as all forms of gender-based violence, and improve access to and participation in education for adolescent girls and young mothers.

“Your dream of finishing your studies will come true,” Dorothy told her with a small smile.

Jacinta smiled back. Was she getting a second chance?

Emily, the founder of the Mombasa Young Mothers Organization, gave Jacinta a warm welcome. She assured her that no one would judge her and that everyone was family there. Jacinta met with several girls of her age who had embraced their new life and were grateful for the opportunity presented to them by the organization. Some were still studying, while others had finished school.

It was not long before Jacinta shared her story with her new family. She had learned to forgive herself and accept what happened to her as it had shaped her into the woman she was becoming. Jacinta realized that by speaking up and unburdening herself, she was able to move past her ordeal. She learned that Matthew had been wrong to demand anything from her and that it was her right to accept or refuse his demands. With organization’s help, Jacinta reported Matthew, who got arrested. Then Jacinta resumed her studies without any fear of being judged or ridiculed. She studied hard, thankful for the second chance. She was active during guidance and counselling sessions in school, offering to educate her schoolmates on the importance of fighting for their rights.

“Finally, I am home,” she murmured happily. “All thanks to Mombasa Young Mothers Organization.”

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