July 23, 2017
  
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“For violence to reduce you must stand up strongly”

I was born in Kibera and I grew up in Kibera; growing up here was both a privilege and a struggle. Life is difficult in Kibera and we live in poverty here, but this place makes a woman strong and I believe that I am strong today because I grew up in Kibera.

I had sex for the first time through defilement and at that time I was six years old and it was a very painful experience for me. I think that such situations make women very strong. At the end of the day, it was a challenge to me; a challenge that has brought so many successes today. Violence against women is very common in Kibera and many people have normalised it. So many women experience violence and they do not talk about it because they think it is normal, especially women experiencing violence in their relationships.

When I was 16 years old I was gang raped. These people raped me and then they were speaking about it in the society and by that time I was in puberty - I was a girl, I was naïve and then they were telling everyone and they were doing that for fun. That was the sad part, they were doing it for fun, and they did not know that they were causing damage. When I realised that I was pregnant, I hid it and went for an unsafe abortion; I did not share my story, not even with my best friend. It was more than 20 years after the first time I got raped that I told my family about it. I told my father, and my family, that the reason I am doing a Bachelor's in Gender, Women and Development Studies is because of my experience when I was a child. I wanted my father to know it, as much as it is not supposed to be said in this society. I wanted him to know because he is a polygamist and he has young children, who come from where I came from, and I do not want them to experience the same thing I did. For violence to reduce, you must stand up very strongly, without shaking, and speak out against it. I found the strength to forgive the gang that raped me in order to feel free. It was not easy to pick up my life again but I am trying to make it work. 

I got involved in human rights work because of my experiences and because of the vision I have for the women and the passion I have for human rights. I remember when I was a child I would say I wanted to be a lawyer and, although I am not a professional lawyer, sometimes I feel that I am in that law industry because I protect a lot of rights, I stand up for a lot of people. Kibera is changing slowly, women like me can share their experiences and, today, women can report cases and some women can walk out of violent relationships. It is not a boom change, it is a slight change – you can observe it. And I am really happy about it.

I have dedicated myself to my community because I am a mother, and my daughters are growing up in a community, Olympic, similar to the one I grew up in, Kismudogo, and I am not going to live forever so I want to leave a legacy for my children. I want them to be able to proudly say “My mother changed this to this”. My eldest daughter is eight and I have shared my experiences with her; we sit down, have a girl-to-girl talk, we speak about all these issues and how she can protect herself. Soon we will talk about puberty so that she can understand properly what she is going through.

One of the frustrations in my human rights work is the state of the Kenyan system; our system is very poor. Today a woman gets defiled and tomorrow she will see the perpetrator back on the streets. We need to work on both strengthening the system and preventative measures. I had a recent case of sexual violence where the case worker, who was supposed to be getting justice for the victim, took a bribe from the perpetrator. But nobody wants to speak about it because the case worker is a man and has the reputation of being a vigorous person.

Often, my human rights work is difficult, but I believe in human beings and I am well connected; when I feel a case is heavy for me I look for advice from older women. They encourage and inspire me. I have so many friends, when you come here in the evening you would think it is a parliament because there are so many people sitting around.

I do this work for the love of my society; I love working with my society and my community at large. One of the areas that we need to address is the issue of data and reporting – we have not taught our women how to report abuses, how to put everything down in writing. We need to teach them that even if they do not want to take the perpetrator to jail, it is still important to report it so that we can understand the scale of violence against women. Increasing the number of women reporting cases is one of my goals for the coming year and another is how we engage men on the topic of violence against women. We need to sit with men, to speak with men, especially young men because they will be the husbands and fathers in a few years. We need to make sure the men are aware of what the Constitution says about this issue. Many people do not know what the Constitution says and if what they are doing is against it. If we engage not only with women on the topic of gender based violence but with all of society, and give men the opportunity to talk about it themselves, then we are going to prevent a lot of issues in the future.

Editar Ochieng is a Toolkit Organiser based in Kibera


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