Jennifer Schlecht (center, kneeling in a white shirt) had worked across Africa in humanitarian aid for issues affecting women. (Courtesy of New York Daily News)

Jennifer Schlecht’s Death Calls for Addressing Domestic Violence as a Global Problem

Jennifer Schlecht, left, daughter Abnysh, center, and Yonathan Tedla, right, (Courtesy of NY Daily News)
Jennifer Schlecht, left, daughter Abnysh, centre, and Yonathan Tedla, right, (Courtesy of NY Daily News)

Featured image: Jennifer Schlecht had worked across Africa in humanitarian aid for issues affecting women. (Courtesy of New York Daily News)

I knew her colleague at Family Planning 2020 and still remember her colleague’s post vividly on Facebook. The NY Daily News story announced her murder, a week before the ICPD25- Nairobi Summit where she was to speak. Jennifer Schlecht was the Senior Advisor, Emergency Preparedness and Response for Family Planning 2020.

I remember the livid feeling I had as I read on. That a woman who was such a strong supporter of women and girls in crisis, ending up as a casualty of domestic violence, spoke volumes on the need to reexamine ourselves as a community. Jennifer Schlecht and her five-year-old daughter Abaynesh died in domestic violence on November 6th, 2019.

The speeches by her colleagues and the family planning community during her memorial held in Nairobi’s Serena Hotel left an impression of a woman who was devoted advocate of reproductive health to women and girls in crisis, a helpful colleague and a loving mother.

The head of UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem, also paid her tribute at the memorial. She said that Jennifer’s death is a mirror of what other women go through in silence. They died in the hands of a husband and a father. Yet Jennifer was such a devoted activist on women’s issues, how about the woman in crisis, who lives in the slum and doesn’t know where to seek help?

A few Kenyan youths stood up to give their tributes. Of course, in such situations, some people innocently quote scripture to fill their speeches with meaning. One paraphrase I remember well was “If we live, we are the Lord’s, and if we die we are the Lord’s.” I sat there deep in thought. Could the patriarchy excused by ignorant religious undertones be the cause of so many cases of domestic violence? Sometimes silence is golden in such situations.

I cringed through some of the tributes and was relieved when Beth Schlachter, executive director, FP2020 went to the podium to adjourn the tribute session.

Jennifer’s case shows that domestic violence does not know social class or country. It is a universal problem that we have to address. Yonathan Tedla, the husband who killed his wife and daughter before taking his life, according to the NY Daily News article, reportedly threatened to kill Jennifer when the issue of divorce came up.

Being a good mother, Jennifer Schlecht stayed in the marriage, not wanting to separate the child from her father. Many women make this choice, and sometimes they leave abusive marriages when it’s too late.

As we observe 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, let’s remember that no relationship is worth losing your life. Seek help. Share your struggles with friends. Gather the courage to walk away while you are still alive.

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