A voice for gender-based violence survivors
By Lilian Kaivilu
Her composure and low tone would easily be mistaken for a shy and reserved girl. Lilian Wanjiru Githunguri, popularly known as Ciru Gi poses as a calm and soft spoken being. But the composure of the career artist is perhaps the strength that has carried her through a gender-based violence experience that she experienced in 2015.
And as a result of her ordeal, Githunguri is now pushing for social justice of victims of domestic and gender-based violence by use of photography, one-on-one sessions and social media.
Born and raised in Nairobi, Githunguri, the second born in a family of six, attended Greenacres School (Redhill) for 11 years. She then left for her further studies in the United Kindgom at 16. Here, she graduated with a Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) Higher National Diploma in General Art & Design from Kent Institute of Art & Design. “I was also one of the first batch of benefactors of Nikon School (Eye See Africa- 2014) and Photomagic Photography School,” she remembers.
Githunguri sees herself as radical thinker, thanks to her upbringing. “I am fortunate to have never lacked anything materially, and had the best education. My upbringing fostered a sense of independence in me, sparked my love of the arts and gave birth to my creative mind. I had to think out of the box, and became a radical thinker very early on,” she says.
The mother of six works in the entertainment business where she manages talent and creates events. She is also a photographer and a graphics designer. As a photographer with an activist mind, Githunguri founded Machokali in 2014. “I wanted to brand my photographic production work focused on initiatives that fight for social change. With my camera as my weapon of choice, every ‘click’ signifies my deployment of powerful ammunition to combat social injustices,” she says.
As the world marks the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence which ends on December 10, Githunguri’s memories of violence meted out on her by her intimate partner in 2015 are still fresh. “I was viciously attacked and brutalised by my intimate partner, with whom I was also involved in a business relationship and several professional collaborations at the time. The attack took place at a public event that we had planned and organised together following an incident during which he had publicly disrespected and humiliated me.”
Githunguri says what followed was a nightmare that has had lasting effects on her life. “At some point all I could hear in my left ear was a constant ringing. I pleaded with him to stop but he continued on. Within seconds I blacked out from the pain, exhaustion and trauma of the attack. He had ruptured my left eardrum in 2 places and I had to have an emergency tympanoplasty.
She then became introverted for some time until she confided in a friend who walked her through the healing process. “But something compelled me to share with my friends in the Photography Association of Kenya (PAK). The kind of support I garnered there filled me with a new-spirited drive to speak out against violence and get justice.”
A social media campaign against gender-based violence (GBV) from Githunguri’s relative would then give her courage to be the voice of victims of the vice.
Today, she is deeply involved in supporting survivors of GBV “I regularly utilise social media platforms such as Facebook as a successful tool for peer-to-peer support of other survivors who are at different stages of coping with the violence. The women are able to contact me directly this way without having to fear any judgment or humiliation because they know that I will understand what they’re going through,” says Githunguri.
The photographer walks closely with survivors through the healing process. This sometimes includes providing financial assistance out of pocket. “One recent example is a woman whom I provided with the funds to facilitate her move into a place of her own, buying her a phone and financing her starting of a vegetable kiosk near her residence.”
Githunguri is currently developing a GoFundMe campaign to provide emergency funds to support survivors. The campaign will also serve as a tool for identifying broader support for the initiative through networks and partnerships formed with supporters. “I have recently worked with two other photographers, Ahmed Ousman and Shalet Kazungu and our latest work is about to be showcased as we go towards the 16days of GBV awareness.”