Supporting neglected women in hardship areas through legal aid and assistance

November 5, 2019

Pastoralism is the norm for locals on both sides of the often porous Kenya-Ethiopia border which bisects Moyale; as such, cross-border communities may access the same grazing lands, leading to intermittent conflict. Photo: Amunga Eshuchi/UNDP Kenya

Moyale is as bustling and lively as you’d expect a border town to be: split across both Kenya and Ethiopia, there are clear influences on either side of the town from each country, from the foliage to the food and the language to the locals. The northernmost point of Marsabit County has recently seen a boon in fortunes following the completion of the Isiolo-Moyale Highway in 2017 and strengthened Kenya-Ethiopia integration: what was once a troubled frontier town is becoming a focal point in the rising tide of East African trade.

Outside of the town itself, Moyale and North Horr Sub-Counties are sparsely populated, largely by nomadic pastoralists. Societal norms in these communities — which have recently seen serious violence across the porous border — are often patriarchal. This creates a challenging situation for women and girls, whose education is not culturally prioritised and whose input in traditional forums is not always accepted. When water, pasture and security are urgent priorities, issues which adversely affect women are not always paid the attention they deserve.

Safia Ibrahim, 29, is an ALCHA paralegal; she highlights the place of women in patriachal nomad communities and religious perspectives on gender roles as being a serious impediments to achieving equal access to justice. Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

“The issue that is putting women behind, being a nomad way of life that we are living in Marsabit County, is the cultural context where a man can marry more than one wife. So, if he marries the second wife, he can leave the first one and his children without taking care of their needs, without taking them to school, without caring for them totally.” — Safia Ibrahim

Safia Ibrahim, 29, is a paralegal with Alliance of Local Communities in Hardship Areas (ALCHA) and a local of Butiye Ward. Ms. Ibrahim describes how the combination of a religious perspective and both the place of women and lower literacy rate relative to men in nomad communities mean that when it comes to issues such as rape, abuse or neglect, women often suffer in silence.

Beyond the headline-grabbing ethnic and pasture-driven violence, one of the less reported but highly damaging aspects of nomad life on the Marsabit frontier is paternal abandonment. Amina Ture of Odda, on the outskirts of Moyale town, is a mother of four. After relations broke down with her husband, Ms. Turre fell into financial hardship as he neglected to continue to support the family financially, whilst she struggled to balance both providing for and caring for her children.

Amina Ture of Odda ward, Moyale Sub-County, was left in financial hardship when her husband left her and their 4 children. ALCHA mediated a settlement so that her husband would continue to support the family financially. Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

“I paid a visit to their offices and I shared my problems with them, and afterwards they called my husband and spoke to him about my four children… He was told by ALCHA to be paying the monthly bills, and I am now getting money sent monthly to the office. That’s how they have directly supported me.” — Amina Ture

Promoting Legal Aid and Assistance for the Poor and Marginalized is a project run by ALCHA and supported by UNDP to address issues such as that faced by Ms. Ture. ALCHA trains paralegals from local areas and mobilises them to increase awareness of legal aid and assistance, run civic education programmes in rural communities, and conduct outreach visits to pick up on injustices faced by women and girls in particular that may be going unheard. Typically, ALCHA provides free services such as mediation or drafting of court documents and liaise with County Government authorities to solve problems.

ALCHA’s impact in Moyale and North Horr Sub-Counties has been significant and varied. Including Ms. Ture’s case, 36 families where there were issues of paternal neglect are now receiving upkeep as a result of ALCHA mediation; over 300 secondary school pupils have been trained on human rights promotion and protection mechanisms; 274 community members received legal assistance through drafting of agreements by ALCHA paralegals; and significantly, 2 primary school-age girls in Golbo ward were rescued from early forced marriage and are now continuing their education.

Project Coordinator Hussein Borbor, 29, manages the day-to-day aspects of ALCHA’s work. All ALCHA staff are trained paralegals, such that anyone in the Moyale office can assist those who come seeking advice. Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

Hussein Borbor, Project Coordinator for ALCHA, has seen the best and worst of life on the frontier. Although his house was among the first to be burned down amidst intercommunal violence in 2013, Mr. Borbor stayed in Moyale to continue his work. Today, he speaks glowingly of the commitment and impact of ALCHA’s team of predominantly women paralegals, and stresses that the project’s work is far from complete. Hiring a private process server will increase the efficiency of legal assistance, Mr. Borbor says, and more office space will afford women who come forward the confidentiality they deserve.

Both Ms. Ibrahim and Mr. Borbor are clear in their commitment: ALCHA’s presence as members of the local community, native Oromo-Kiborana fluency and knowledge of traditional power structures such as the Gada system means that they can promote access to justice for women and girls, even where others can’t.


About UNDP in Kenya:

Under the Country Programme Document (CPD) 2018–22, UNDP leverages innovative approaches working under three pillars of: Governance, Peace and SecurityInclusive Growth and Structural Transformation; and Environmental Sustainability, Climate Change and Resilience

Promoting Legal Aid and Assistance for the Poor and Marginalized is a project run by ALCHA and funded by the European Union under the UNDP Amkeni Wakenya CSO facility. This project is part of the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD), a partnership involving the Government of Kenya, European Union, United Nations and civil society, towards improving the delivery of justice services and use of alternatives to imprisonment.

Disclaimer: This story is based on first person reports and interviews conducted during a monitoring and evaluation visit and public participatory forum in Marsabit County, August 2019. The opinions expressed in this story are solely those of the interviewed participants and do not necessarily represent the views of affiliated donors or organisations.