Jaqy Mutere – A Steadfast Voice for Women Battling Shame and Stigma in Kenya

4/30/2019

On April 11, 2019, Jaqy Mutere, cofounder and coleader of Grace Agenda, accepted an award from Physicians for Human Rights recognizing the work of the Survivors of Sexual Violence in Kenya Network and Grace Agenda, a leader in this movement. Jaqy cofounded Grace Agenda after she began working with women who, like her, had experienced sexual violence during the protests that erupted in Kenya after the contested December 2007 elections.

What started 10 years ago with Jaqy and her fellow survivors sharing their struggles with each other has grown into a powerful political network advocating for police reform, reparations, and acknowledgment for survivors of sexual violence. Grace Agenda now has leaders in all of Kenya’s 47 counties, which carry out separate activities and come together when necessary to amplify their voices. Jaqy is also a member of the National Victims and Survivors Network, one of the organizations that has been working to advance the reparations agenda and the recommendations of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

The voices of sexual violence survivors are more urgent than ever as the Restorative Justice Fund of 10 billion shillings ($100 million USD), promised by President Kenyatta four years ago, has yet to materialize. Despite this impasse, Grace Agenda continues to advocate for reparations for survivors of sexual violence. Jaqy believes that these efforts are important because they give survivors and victims’ visibility and cohesion and help integrate communities into Kenya’s nascent political dialogue. Jaqy is proud of how the women have overcome enormous obstacles—rape and stigma, the birth of children resulting from sexual violence, and the loss of income and community support—to be able to tell their stories and advocate for their needs.

“If you stop, who will fight for you?” she always asks the women with whom she works.

Many victims of Kenya’s post-electoral violence are hopeful about the Building Bridges Initiative—a national dialogue initiative launched by President Kenyatta and his political opponent at the end of 2017. Along with the recommendations of the 2011 TJRC report, this process could be a significant step toward reparations and recognition of the suffering and rights of victims represented by organizations like Grace Agenda. Jaqy supports victims’ involvement in the process, but she is quick to point out that any proposals currently discussed by the government, will be meaningless if they are not accompanied by the state’s support for the women whose personal integrity was violated during the recent periods of violence.

 “How will a monument help somebody whose personal integrity has been violated and who needs compensation for medical support and money to go back to school, who needs her children to be educated…The memorialization means nothing to me if my child doesn’t go to school, if the women can’t go back to school, if they don’t get medical help, if their fistula is not fixed, if their bodies are not healed… that means nothing.”

ICTJ has supported Grace Agenda since it was formed by providing technical support, building capacity, and connecting it to other survivors and initiatives in other countries. It helped the network develop its strategic plan and vision in a way that progressively allowed Jaqy and her team to pressure the government for answers. Recently, Jaqy led a peaceful march to present a petition to the senate reminding its members about the pledges they had made to survivors. She also delivered a series of letters, written by women in their own words, to the Office of the President, adding a cover letter to draw attention to the issue of sexual violence.


Jaqy Mutere, center front, a long time partner of ICTJ, visited their offices in New York City while she was in town to accept the Physicians for Human Rights award. (ICTJ)

While Jaqy welcomes the support of ICTJ, she thinks that international NGOs should only ever have a supporting role when they work with domestic organizations. In her opinion, they are there to facilitate a process. If their hand becomes too strong, then the survivors will start depending on them, and soon it is not the survivors’ voices, but the voice of outsiders that the world hears.

 “What if my daughter asks me about it? What am I going to answer? Does it matter to me what my in-laws think? What does it mean to me when my child starts condemning me? What if my husband leaves me? You manage the dynamics around you immediately, and then you develop resilience.

The resilience of the members of the survivors’ network remains an example—as does Jaqy’s sheer force of will and her take-no-for-an-answer perseverance—for others trying to manage the trauma they experienced during Kenya’s political violence and the resulting community and family dynamics. “My personal vision is that I will do all I can do with the ability I have,” she says. “My singular motivation is that… if [the government] is responsible for me, when I do something bad it throws me in the slammer. In the same way, when it does badly, it should be thrown in the slammer.”


PHOTO: Jaqy Mutere attends a human rights consultation hosted by ICTJ in Nairobi. (ICTJ)