Kenya is a young nation with a diverse heritage connected to the Horn of Africa given its eastern coast which has a long historical relationship with the Islamic world. Approximate statistics show that between 10 to 20% of Kenya’s population comprises of Muslims, highlighting that Muslims in Kenya make up the minority. Most of the Kenyan Muslims are concentrated in specific geographical areas in and around the coast, which gives them considerable political influence. In the Northern parts of Kenya, most Muslims are of Somali origin. There are also considerable numbers of Muslims across the country in Central and Western Kenya.
There has been a growth in militancy within Kenya which can be connected to the increasing counter-terrorism measures and the ‘fight against terrorism’. Recent attacks within Kenya by Al-Shabaab further complicate the situation and worsen the relationship between Kenya and Somalia. Kenya’s counter-terrorism activities are largely to the detriment of moderate Muslims. Given the extent of these recent attacks, the people are siding with the government to take whatever action necessary to protect and secure citizens. This has resulted in a government crackdown on NGOs, media, Somali refugees and any other actors that pose a threat. For example, in December 2014 and following the Garissa attacks, the government revoked the registration of roughly 500 NGOs in the country. Women’s rights are continuously undermined by national security legitimizing violence against them as an effective counter-terrorism method.
*Given Kenya’s vast population, it is important to note that SIHA is working mainly in the Coastal areas where refugees and Muslim women are more vulnerable.
Building inclusive women’s movements
SIHA is working establishing “4 Circles of knowledge” across the Kenyan coast for activists and women associations. The objective of this program is to provide a safe and open space to debate crucial and instrumental issues, such as laws and policies, pertaining to the rights of women and girls. Through these discussions, SIHA has developed an alternative approach to addressing the influence of militancy within the region. The discussions focus on the teachings from the Koran reconnecting Muslims to the reform that has since been forgotten due to various political dynamics and interventions that enabled militancy and fundamentalism over the past several decades. Gender is a central issue in the development of this approach since gender relations is a core concept in power dynamics and in driving all aspects of traditional religious militancy.