Soft loans and trade skills help slum women fight GBV

Many women stay in abusive unions for lack of financial independence

In Summary

• Rights group is equipping poor women with ways to break the chain of dependence

• Plan has changed hundreds of lives. However, lack of safe houses remains a challenge

CREAW champion Fridah Onwong’a speaks during a session with GBV survivors supported by the organisation
CREAW champion Fridah Onwong’a speaks during a session with GBV survivors supported by the organisation

In the African set-up, it was believed in the past that men are the ones supposed to carry out the responsibilities of providing basic needs to the family.

Many people found it easy to carry the burden because it was their responsibility as the heads of the family, but again, this denied women a voice in the community because they depended on their husbands to provide for them.

In Mombasa, women, especially those living in slum areas, bear the brunt of gender-based violence because they have nothing to bring to the table.

Christine Mutisya, a mother of six and a resident of Bangladesh slum in Mombasa county, recalled painful moments in her marriage.

She did not receive any penny from her husband but rather beatings whenever she put in an effort of working for people to get at least Sh200 for food.

“I got married to my now ex-husband with one child who was not his biological child,” she said.

“At first he was a good person. He welcomed us but later turned his back on me because of this innocent child, despite me giving birth to other children with him.”

She said he decided to discriminate against this one child, telling her he could neither feed nor educate the child.

“As a mother, it used to hurt me so much, whenever I could go look for casual jobs to at least get something to provide for my child,” she said.

“This man could beat me up and take away the money, saying a woman is not supposed to have money; instead, he is the only one who is allowed to work and bring money, but I never saw even a shilling.”

The husband would go out, come back and show her the money collected from his hustle, but tell her there was no eating. So she ended up sleeping hungry with her children.

Mutisya narrated how she lived a hard life and received beatings whenever she uttered a word, to the point she thought of taking her life because it was hard for her to go back to her biological mother with her children; she felt it would be a burden.

Margret Akoth, a mother of five, also a GBV survivor from Bangladesh slum, says in their area, so many women are victims because they are not financially stable.

In her case, her marriage was not stable for a long time because of everyday fights.

“My life was packing and running away from it and coming back. We even took the case to our village elders and to our chief, but that could not solve the situation,” she said.

“One day I went to a police station; I had already made a decision that even if it is law, let it take its way.”

But at the time, she was not stable financially.

“I was depending on my husband in many things, so as much as he was beating me, I could go back at the same place because he is the one who was feeding us,” she said.

The reason why she persevered with the problems is because she is an orphan and so she had no other place to go to.


Most GBV victims are hindered from moving out of the toxic environment due to lack of economic empowerment.

Mutisya said when she was going through hard times, she really wished to own a business, but that was not possible due to her financial status.

In 2020, when Covid-19 struck, GBV cases rose because everybody was locked up in the house with no activities going on.

Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), a national feminist women’s rights group, came up with a programme called ‘Jasiri Fund Project’ to help and empower GBV survivors to rise from being victims to entrepreneurs in Mombasa.

The organisation had different programmes, where they offered psycho social, legal support and strategic litigation for GBV cases.

Apart from the services, they came up with an economic empowerment aspect to empower survivors.

Moses Okello, women's economic and empowerment lead at CREAW, said they have different programmes that attend and adhere to interventions that are meant to help women, children and men, but mostly women, who are the majority of GBV survivors and victims.

“As women's economic empowerment lead, I support the implementation of programmes that ensure women can socioeconomically participate,” he said.

“This is important for them to become self-reliant and recover from impacts of domestic violence.”

With support from Mastercard Foundation, CREAW created a programme which targeted 1,000 women in 10 counties.

These are Busia, Garissa, Kajiado, Kakamega, Kiambu, Kilifi, Kwale, Mombasa, Nairobi and Tana River.

The programme aims to help women access quality finances, invest and thrive in their businesses.

“With our Jasiri Fund programme, we wanted to see whether there is a reduction or increase in GBV cases,” he said.

“We also provided financial literacy trainings that equip women with knowledge and ideas on how to navigate the business environment.”

Okello said that about 87 per cent of women they have reached out to have reported reduction of domestic violence because they have gained independence.

“We have seen that economic empowerment programme is contributing to the reduction of GBV cases as well as prevention of domestic violence,” he said.

“With this programme, we have ensured there is recovery and self-reliance for these women, who are now able to advocate for their rights and also assert their independence within their households.

“The GBV cases normally increase when women depend on their abusive spouses for economic support.” 

Survivors now have digital savings, where about 93 per cent of them have been able to access savings with banks, M-pesa and other means like merry go rounds.

“So that tells us that ideally, when we have a programme like this, we can not only respond but also prevent GBV cases completely,” he said.

“Therefore, our appeal to national and county governments and other interested parties or key actors, let us work closely together and commit resources so that we are able to reach out to more women.”

Many people do not want to associate with GBV survivors. When CREAW was looking for a potential partner to host the Jasiri Fund, many banks that they reached out to said such women are at risk and therefore, they would not wish to lend them money.

Luckily, they were able to negotiate with Kenya Women Finance Trust, which understood them and committed to offer loans to survivors.

So far, the organisation, which is expected to roll out Jasiri Fund programme 2 after successfully completing the first project, has reached out to 100 women in Mombasa, 80 in Kilifi and 100 in Nairobi. 

Through the programme, the women received between Sh10,000 and Sh100,000 with a grace period of two months before they start making their payments, with low interest of 8.3 per cent and no collateral.


Mutisya, who is a beneficiary of the programme, said the training helped her to start a business.

“I have been able to stand on my feet as a mother and take my children to another level. Three of them have gone up to college level, and this is through my business,” she said.

“I am so grateful to the CREAW organisation because they helped me get back on my feet. I cannot remember the last time I asked for help from someone, because I am doing well financially.”

Mutisya, who is also a community health promoter, said she left her marriage due to intimidation. Many women in her community, Bangladesh slum, going through GBV, but they tend to hide due to stigma.

 “To those going through GBV, I want to tell them that if I survived, they can survive, too, as long as they get strong, believe in themselves, stand on their feet and start a business,” she said.

Akoth, also a survivor, used to sell omena in the evening and hawk juice during the day, but after getting the loan, she opened a shop where she now sells cereals, home-made soap and does Mpesa business. 

“Before, my husband could come home drunk, and when you ask for money he starts fighting. He used to see me as a burden and all this was because I didn’t have a good source of income, but since I started my own business, we have never fought,” she said.  

CREAW programme officer Naima Ali said Mombasa county is among the regions that recorded high GBV cases during the pandemic.

As a way of ensuring you are responding to GBV in a holistic manner, Ali said survivors needed something that could aid them.

“Most women are afraid to leave abusers or the situation they are in because they have no economic sustainability,” she said. 

“They have no money making or income-generating activity they are involved in. And that is an aid for the perpetrator to keep her there, to make her stay and continue abusing her.”

She said this was like a step towards attaining that resilience and independence economically.

“When you give this woman a loan, you are not just giving her the loan with no skills and knowledge impacted. You need to ensure she is well equipped with skills that will help her run the business and a loan with less interest and no security deposits because of what they have gone through,” Ali said.

“This was purely to ensure we build their resilience, livelihood and try to make her feel like she has control over her life.”

Survivors were taken through trainings, including entrepreneurship skills, where they gained saving and management skills.

They were also taught how to innovate market strategies and grow their businesses so that when they take the loans, they can invest wisely and get the correct market.

The loan was issued depending on the type of business idea an individual has and the capability of paying it back.

I want to call upon men. This is not the right time to fight with women. If you have any issue, you can always sit down and talk to one another without fighting, and in the absence of children
Joseph Oluoch


Despite the efforts to end GBV and protect survivors from perpetrators, availability of shelters remains a challenge in Kenya.

The government does not have a lot of shelters or safe centres for women, and the few that exist are mostly privately owned and depend on well-wishers and donations.

“On our side, we partnered and worked with shelter service providers, where we supported their services and efforts to help GBV victims who had nowhere to go to stop perpetrators from this heinous act,” Ali said.

In Mombasa, the two shelters they were working with mostly take minors and not women above 18. However, as they continued working with them, the county government made a room and opened a shelter in Utange to accommodate women.

“So you see, it’s quite hard. The cases are quite high and the space is quite little. There are so many services that GBV requires. There are so many interventions and programmes that the national and the county government can introduce, fund and prioritise,” Ali said.

She called for policies that will cut across all departments to ensure there is mainstreaming and inclusion of services in every aspect because GBV occurs anywhere and everywhere.

Mombasa CREAW champion Joseph Oluoch, who links survivors with the organisation, said compared to the upper class level, GBV cases are high in slum areas due to the state of the economy.

“GBV does not choose tribe or area; it is everywhere but the challenge is that most women are not reporting the cases, even those in upper class,” she said.

“Therefore, I want to call upon men. This is not the right time to fight with women. If you have any issue, you can always sit down and talk to one another without fighting, and in the absence of children,” he said.

He urged the county government to equip and support groups in the community who are creating awareness on GBV.

“The government should use the registered groups in the community for us to reach out to as many people as possible. This will help us do mapping and know to what extent we have reduced the GBV menace,” Oluoch said.

He said police stations also need to modify the gender desks with the required equipment and ensure that the officers and chiefs are trained on how to handle GBV matters.

Ali called upon women to strive hard and be resilient even in the face of such a terrible situation

"Gender-based violence is a menace that occurs to a lot of women and children, but when you give up as a woman, as a pillar of the society and as the strength that a child looks up to, it actually gives more strength to these perpetrators,” she said.

"The fact that a woman can choose to fight, believe in herself, grow and build the resilience to fight gender-based violence, that's a very big step in winning the fight against GBV.”

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