Every day, girls and women are subjected to sexual assault or harassment. Often, such cases go unreported since victims choose to stay mum either because of shame, or for fear of reprisal.
Elizabeth Amwamu, a fourth year student of Information Science at Moi University, knows this too well. She was assaulted sexually when she was in university, but she vowed not to sit back and watch as other women undergo the same experience.
At 23, Liz is the Chief Executive Officer of Masiz Pamoja International Foundation, an organisation that seeks to empower girls and women. She launched Masiz Pamoja App on September 20 this year together with 16 other women. The app offers girls and women unfettered access to information on sexual and reproductive health.
So what prompted her to start this organisation?
In 2017, she survived an ordeal where a fellow student assaulted her sexually during student campaigns. At that time, lecturers were on strike and elections had been postponed to January.
“A male student took advantage of me and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. He held an influential position within the student leadership and I felt that nobody would have believed me if I reported the matter so I opted to suffer in silence,” recounts Liz.
Even though, she campaigned in January 2018 and clinched the position of Entertainment Director at the institution, that ordeal continued to weigh heavily on her. She decided to come up with a tool that could help other victims find help.
“I wanted to be the voice of the voiceless, and to come up with a system that could help rape victims get justice,” she observed.
Early last year, she shared this idea with her friends, and most of them embraced it with open arms. They were eager to support her.
But when she was starting out, she encountered several challenges. For instance, it took about one year before the organisation was officially registered.
Between June and September this year, with the help of other team members who are IT students, Liz and her team developed the mobile application. She says that they spent more than Sh50,000 to set it up and have it available on Google Play, and that she raised this amount through savings from her pocket money, her allowances for serving as a student leader, and other engagements such as that her role as a brand ambassador for Kotex.
This app offers well-researched articles and blogs on sexual and reproductive health which are written by volunteers. It also has a feature that allows one to anonymously report sexual harassment, and it links victims to the university’s gender, security, the chaplain and counselling departments.
The App connects female students to health care specialists and security agencies in the event that they fall victims of gender based violence or sexual harassment.
She believes that the many cases of abortion or gender-based violence that arise in campus relationships can be stamped out if women and girls are equipped with the right information.
“For instance, many female students don’t know how or where to get a gynaecologist. Most of them rely on online websites for medical advice, instead of visiting qualified medical professionals for proper diagnosis and treatment,” explains Sabrina Jeptoo, a fourth year student who is also member of the foundation.
Liz and her team hope to work with the Ministry of Health and other non-governmental organisations that are involved in similar causes so that they can reach out to more youth and empower them.
“Most organisations pass information through radio or TV stations, yet the youth rely mostly on social media to get information. We want to use this App to reach more youth and empower them on health issues,” she says.
Already, some organisations such as Moi Teaching and Referral’s Hospital’s Research Centre have shown interest in this app.