Violence Against Women

Voices from Nairobi on World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day

JUNE 20, 2013

In celebration of World Refugee Day, we would like to highlight Halima, a Heshima Ambassador who participates in our programs and serves as a project leader in the Maisha Collective. Many of the young women we support arrive  without a voice and Halima was no different when she fled Ethiopia and joined us in 2009. Today, we are proud to report that she and seven other young women are serving as peer mobilizers in our Junior Ambassadors Group. They lead workshops with other refugee girls and young women throughout Nairobi to share information about reproductive health and human rights, and other lessons they've learned from our Girls' Empowerment Project.

These young women are fostering a movement of leadership among their peers. With 11 million refugees worldwide, 80% of whom are women and children, leaders like Halima are committed to inspiring peace through education. This is Heshima Kenya’s vision in action, and we couldn’t be more proud. 

Please consider making a donation or purchasing a Maisha scarf today to celebrate these young women on World Refugee Day.


I am team leader at Heshima Kenya through the Maisha Collective and I attend the Girls’ Empowerment Program where I continue my studies. I was fortunate enough to be chosen among the seven girls who were trained on community mobilization. I participated in a three-month certification class that taught me how to mobilize and create awareness. 

I live in Eastleigh where many Ethiopian and Somali refugees live. I believed what better way to start than within my neighborhood. I therefore talked to three of my neighbors’ about the benefits of attending the training. The three called their friends and we made a group of 10 and I was able to start training them. All this took place at my humble home since it was convenient for all to attend.

The training kicked off with everyone discussing their expectations. I introduced myself and talked about what will be happening every time we met. This included the services offered by Heshima Kenya and other organizations and what topics would be covered through out the meetings. The age group is 14-27 with refugees who are Somali and Oromo. 

We discussed all the topics in the curriculum and conducted pre-and post evaluations to understand what the ladies learned from the session. I asked many of the ladies why they wanted to join the group and this is what they said: “I am very proud of what the women in the group are doing and learning for each other and that every women in the group has  inspired her in different ways.” Another lady said, “It’s eye-opening for me because I am 19 years old and have a new baby girl. When I see Halima waking up every morning to go to Heshima Kenya, she inspires me because of the woman and neighbor she is.” Another said, “If you educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

While leading trainings is inspiring, it also has its challenges. I have a lot of difficulty teaching about FGM [Female Genital Mutilation] because many of the women believe girls must undergo FGM and refuse to listen to the difficulties that come about because of it. I also taught them about STDs but I found that they were shy about this topic and they were not willing to talk too much. I think this is because they are not used to talking about STDs and in the past have not been given much information about them.   I’m confident they will open up as we become closer as a group.

Overall, I am encouraged by our women’s group and the discussions to come. It wasn’t easy the first time, but I met a lot of really good ladies. I am happy to each. There are many times we don’t understand each other, but I’m very happy to see that they are learning and opening up. As for Heshima Kenya, I am really blessed to be a part of this organization and it’s the best thing that has happened to me. I am very proud to become the leader that I am. 

Heshima Kenya at the 57th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women by Alisa Roadcup

 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, 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.