*This blog post recounts a Flone Initiative women led peace prayer in Muranga, Kenya on 6th July 2014.
The Kenyan media was dominated with stories of fighting in different areas of the country including; Lamu, Baringo, and Wajir. It is this news of violence in several parts of Kenya that evoked an awakening among a group of women. Initially, the idea of women-lead vigil was a brain child of a Kenyan woman living in the U.S. Subsequently, this Kenyan woman reached out to other Kenyan women and started a Face book group “Women of Kenya United for Peace.” After some discussion, the women agreed that they would start women-led peace vigils across the country. The peace vigils were to be facilitated by Flone initiative. The theory behind these vigils was that when violence and lawlessness emerge, women become the easy targets of all the males perpetrators regardless of tribe or religion. Therefore, women have a commonality—they are victims more so because of their gender than their tribe. Hence, this group of women who branded themselves “woman rights champions” understood the importance of all Kenyan women to unite and preach peace in all the corners of their great nation. They made it clear that their efforts were by no means to trivialize the suffering of men but as it is well documented, in times of violence, more often than not, women and children are the one who bear the brunt of the consequences.
Women rights champions were able to reach out to one Member of Parliament, a woman representative, who agreed in assisting the group in furthering their cause. However, the group made it clear that the peace vigils were meant to be non-political and non-religious bipartisan protests that would include all women. The first peace vigil was to be held in Nyeri County but after consultations with the Nyeri women representative who was assisting in the planning logistics, the venue was changed to Murang’a County. The main objective of the peace vigil was to bring together religious leaders and political leaders to advocate for peace in Kenya and peaceful coexistence regardless of tribe, gender or religious beliefs.
On 6th July, the Women rights champion team joined the Murang’a Catholic Diocese of Murang’a for the family Day Mass which was supposed to precede the peace vigil. The mass was a colorful event with over 600 attendees from various churches with the county staff members in attendance. As planned earlier, the religious leaders spoke to the congregation about the need for peace and peaceful coexistence. The political leaders were also given an opportunity to introduce themselves and encourage the participants to join them in the women led vigil procession in Murang’a Town at 2pm.
After the church function, the women led vigil commenced with a Pastor and Muslim Imam leading prayers for peace in the country and peaceful coexistence of Kenyans regardless of religion, tribe or political affiliation. The participants at the procession were given white handkerchiefs, candles, and matchboxes. The handkerchiefs symbolized the call for peace. The candles were to be lit in remembrance of the lives lost in the recent violent attacks in the country. The attendees had also been asked to wear black or white clothes to symbolize peace and mourning.
Unfortunately, as the procession went on, some of the political leaders who addressed the audience invoked some political nuances contrary to the objective of the vigil. The political leaders accused their opponents in the other political parties of having intentions of destabilizing the country. This went against the tenets of the peace movement which were to be non-partisan and all inclusive. Nevertheless, the women rights champions groups felt that they had made a statement that women cannot remain invisible and silent anymore. The procession ended at a local primary school where the women political leaders planted peace trees.
At the end of the vigils, the women rights champion group came up with the following recommendations for future peace vigils:
- Future events should adopt the more cost-effective ideas like use of white handkerchiefs instead of printing T-shirts and home-made placards.
- To encourage non-partisan and all-inclusive participation of citizens, caution should be exercised when involving political leaders.
- The vigils should continue to involve diverse religious leaders.
- Future vigils should adopt the tree planting event for environmental conservation purposes and to serve as a reminder about the need to uphold peace.
It is worth noting that because of this initiative and other efforts that were made by various people to preach peace in the country, the anticipated violence that many mwananchi feared that would take place was thwarted. Additionally, by involving grass-root women to take part in the vigil, we not only empowered them but we also made a statement that women can no longer continue to remain silent and invisible. Lastly, we made people aware of what was going on in Kenya and made a global appeal which made women all over the world through the International peace movement “Women in Black” to stand in solidarity with Kenyan women.
Hon. Priscillah Nyokabi (Nyeri Women Representative) in the peace vigil holding a candle.