Kenya’s ‘talking boxes’ are helping girls break their silence on abuse

So they can break their silence without speaking

‘Talking boxes’ are now a thing in schools in Kenya. The boxes create a space where girls can share their secrets about abuse, via notes. So they can break their silence without actually speaking if they so choose.

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Girls can share anonymously

By placing little notes inside the ‘talking box’, girls in Kenya can open up about parental and sexual abuse. They don’t need to reveal who they are, and they don’t need to speak if they don’t want to.

BBC reports that these metal boxes are now in 50 schools funded by an NGO called Polycom Development. This is what one 14-year-old girl wrote in her note to the ‘talking box’:

‘When my father goes out to the bar to drink alcohol, he comes back very angry and threatens to kill me, my mother and my sister.’ She continues:

‘For a long time I had no-one to talk to and bottled up my issues. But when the talking box was introduced in our school, I was able to speak out by writing on a piece of paper and depositing it into the box, without having to reveal my identity.’

Related: Here’s Why Talking About Sexual Abuse is NB


The Power of Writing it Down and Knowing Someone Will See it

Sharing a traumatic experience or asking a question we’re afraid to ask can feel more doable when it’s on a piece of paper and slipped through a slot in a box.

‘When I started working with the girls, I noticed that girls with serious issues never used to talk,’ says Polycom Development founder.

The ‘talking boxes’ are a new way of listening. The idea that someone on the other side will see it – can be empowering. Sometimes it’s a little easier to share trauma, fears and feelings without vocalizing them.

‘I now feel free because I can express myself and get help. We feel more comfortable. We feel happier,’ wrote the 14-year-old.

The boxes are usually placed outside bathrooms to give girls more privacy. Trained volunteers read through hundreds of notes every week and decide how to best to follow them up.

Related: How to Safely Leave an Abuser, Step-by-Step, Written by a Survivor


What Happens Next?

Many of the schoolgirls who write these notes don’t come forward to speak to their mentors. So what happens next? One school invited all the girls and their parents to the school for a discussion about family and abuse.

Not all the notes are about sexual abuse, some are simply questions about taboo topics. Girls also ask questions they are embarrassed to ask in person like: how can one get pregnant?

When girls do come forward to report abuse, mentors refer them to organisations, arrange counselling, or help them file a case with the police.

Related: Dear Men, This is How You Can Help Us Fight Gender-based Violence in the Age of ‘Am I Next’


Kenya’s Getting it Right with This, Let’s Follow

Reports reveal that violence against women and girls is endemic in slums. Poverty, early marriage, lack of amenities and public security are factors at play. In Kenya, 30% of young people (10 – 24) are urban slum dwellers.

South Africa has some of the worst gender-based violence statistics in the world. We hope to see ideas, like the ‘talking boxes’ in Kenya, spread to our schools too.

Related: South Africa’s Horrifying Gender-Based Violence Stats

In the era of #AmINext, we need to find new ways of listening to our girls. As a society, we need to empower them to speak out in safe spaces. We also need to create those safe spaces. And this is a stellar example of that.


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