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Sengwer women: We’ve lost our dignity, rights violated in evictions

An Overview of NCHRD-K’s Report on the Effects of Evictions to Women Human Rights Defenders and Women Rights

Margaret Chesir was born in Embobut forest and for over 50 years has known no other home. She is a member of the indigenous Sengwer community, often evicted by the government in a bid to conserve the forest. An agonised Chesir was evicted in 2014, and since then, she has been in and out of the forest, struggling to get back to the hunter-gatherer life that defines her community.

Sengwer WHRDs and leaders during the launch of the Interim Report.

“Life outside the forest is unbearable and we often return to the forest as soon as security agencies burn down our structures,” Chesir told the Star, holding back tears.Chesir and other women grew up in an environment where colobus monkeys chattered, jackals howled and crickets chirped. They are fond of natural fruits and vegetables found in Embobut and nearby forests.

“We don’t cut down trees because we live inside thick forests, and we rely on the forest for food and medicines,” she says.Other communities listed as indigenous include Boni (Bajuni), El Molo, Malakote, Ogiek, Sanya, Waata, Wagoshi and Yaaku.But as the world commemorated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, Chesir and company were wondering what their future holds.

LEFT BY HUSBANDS

Mary Komen, a Sengwer community women leader, says the community is now joining the list of internally displaced Kenyans after a series of evictions. The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya recently conducted a research titled “Race against eviction. The plight of Sengwer women and human rights defenders in Embobut forest”.

The NCHRD-K report, launched in Iten, shows a community that has lost its traditions and language during successive evictions. According to the report, Sengwer were forcibly evicted every year since 2007. The community has lived in Embobut forest since the 1890s, and they were given permits by the British colonial government to stay in three glades, including Kapkok, Kaptirbai and Koropken. Its members also occupy parts of West Pokot and Trans Nzoia and consist of 21 clans. The 2009 census put the Sengwer community population at 33,187.

The NCHRD-K further established that the evictions depressed the community, while frequent displacements and disruption of livelihoods have denied the community’s children the right to education. Early marriages and disintegration of Sengwer family units have also been threatened by the evictions. NCHRD-K executive director Kamau Ngugi said researchers spoke to women of the indigenous deep inside the forest.

“The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights had previously conducted a study on human rights violations. We found out that women’s views were not put into account, and that is why we decided to look into the situation of women inside the forest,” Ngugi said.

It was also discovered during the study that Sengwer women were abandoned by their husbands after forest dwellers received Sh400,000 each as payout to move out of the forest. “Men left their wives and married younger women from the neighbouring Marakwet community, and squandered the money meant for buying alternative land,” the interim report reads in part.

Article done by Stephen Rutto, Star Newspaper. Read the entire article here: https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2018/09/11/big-read-sengwer-women-weve-lost-our-dignity-rights-violated-in_c1807215

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