We Must Continue To Protect The Rights of Refugees in the Wake of the Westgate Terrorist Attacks

CHICAGO (October 7, 2013) – To date, dozens of people have lost their lives at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi in a terrorist attack that is shocking in its brutality. Heshima Kenya deeply mourns the lives that were lost and strongly condemns these senseless acts of violence. We believe Kenya can and will emerge a stronger and more united country in the midst of this horrific tragedy.

The Heshima Kenya community has been shaken by these acts of violence against innocent civilians, who include those close to our Heshima family. Every day, our staff works tirelessly to serve the most vulnerable of the world’s refugees – young girls fleeing devastating violence and persecution, often without the support of family or friends. Our primary consideration is for the safety and wellbeing of Kenya’s refugees and the refugee girls Heshima Kenya serves. These acts of terror and brutality have not changed our steadfast commitment to ensure the security and protection of the courageous women and girls in our care.

50% of the young women and girls currently in our programs in Nairobi are of Somali nationality, many of which were forced to flee Somalia because of the very violence perpetrated by Al-Shabab within their own communities. It is a terrible irony that they must once again live in fear. “We trust that the Kenyan Government and its people will continue to protect the rights of immigrants and refugees that have fled this horrific violence and persecution, and look forward to being a helpful part of this dialogue process,” says Heshima Kenya’s Executive Director Anne Sweeney. Meanwhile, we mourn together the hundreds of victims of this tragedy, and stand united across lines of culture, nationality and faith towards a world free of violence and terror.

Media Contacts Anne Sweeney  +1 (773) 574-5548/[email protected]

Alisa Roadcup +1 (720) 352 5504/[email protected]

Women are the peacemakers

Natalie only recently arrived at Heshima this spring from the Congo, but already has blossomed amongst new friends and new books, growing more confident with each passing day. An eager student of 16 years, Natalie is a quick learner and constantly asked me for more books and assignments to write. While she is naturally shy and reserved, with a pen in her hand Natalie is at no loss for words and commands a mastery of English far beyond her 8 years of formal schooling. Her father was a professor years ago and inspired her intellectual curiosity as well as intuitive understanding that only some men resort to treating women poorly.

“Living hell is this world in the absence of women,” Natalie writes, and she has seen hell on Earth. Fleeing her childhood home in the dead of night after rebels sacked her village, Natalie saw her father killed while trying to reason with the attackers. Women are peacemakers, she insists, but they are not able to fulfill this vital role when they are treated like objects. Natalie notes this objectification has plagued women in the Congo even before the rebel war that destroyed her family and her home. She explains that “most men in my homeland treat women as their objects since they have to pay a bride price or dowry before marriage,” literally degrading women to a commodity to be traded between father and husband.

Natalie relishes the opportunity to voice her opinions so freely now in Kenya, producing a long list of the Congo’s gender disparities. Women cannot eat all types of meat that men can, cannot go to school without male permission, are married off young at men’s behest, and possess no freedom of movement.  It is little wonder that Natalie so relishes the educational opportunities at Heshima; were she still in the Congo, she understands that she would likely be married off by now at the age of 16 and denied the right to continue her education. Natalie is passionate about going to college someday. “Congolese men still believe that a man must have the last say,” she explains, and despite her shy demeanor, Natalie today possesses a confidence that will permit no man to stop her from attaining her education.

Written by Beth Goldberg

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