“I cannot be silent anymore”
Growing up in Kibera was a challenge. My parents were not well off and my father had an alcohol problem and beat my mother a lot. Because of these experiences, I decided I did not want to raise my own child in the same way and I have been trying my best to raise my girl in a good way. However, being a single mother in Kibera is difficult. Without a good education, it’s not easy for a woman to find a job, to feed your children, to pay the rent. Life in Kibera has been getting harder, everything is getting more expensive.
A couple of my female relatives were raped when I was younger, but then I could not help them because I did not know anything, I had not engaged with human rights yet. I remained silent, but these days, I cannot be silent anymore. And that’s one positive change; women are now more empowered than before.
The stories from my own family are some of the reasons that I became a human rights defender. In 2007, after the elections here in Kenya, my house was broken into because I am Kikuyu. For a long time, I was very bitter with other tribes. Back then, I didn’t understand that if one person wrongs you, it’s not the whole community or the whole tribe that is hurting you. Then in 2012, I was invited to a meeting of the Kibera Women for Peace and Fairness organisation, where they talked a lot about peace and forgiveness. That pulled me out of the feeling that I was alone. They have engaged me on different occasions and in trainings, which has made me strong.
There are still women in our community with those grievances in their hearts; who still have that bitterness in their hearts. They were not given the opportunity to talk about their experiences or to understand that if one person hurts you, it’s not the whole community that is to blame. You must forgive so that you can move on.
Women can spread peace or spread hatred. If you want people to fight, you can use women. Women can spread the gospel of hatred very fast. If you want a peaceful community, you can also use women, because women can spread the gospel of peace very easily too. With Kibera Women, we organise sports events and a choir to spread the gospel of peace among women and youth.
Right now, we do not always have the capacity to follow up on cases. The police may intimidate you, or the victim’s family is paid off by the perpetrator. I had a defilement case in which the perpetrator paid off the family, which made me very bitter. At the end of the day, the one who is suffering is that five year-old girl. She will never forget. Maybe, if her parents had allowed justice to be done, she would have felt better. Other times, we are successful: we had a case where we organised a demonstration from Kibera to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital to force the doctor and police to testify in a rape case. In the end, they did and the perpetrator was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
Things are slowly changing. We have women vying for seats in the election, we have some women in leadership roles. Before, women’s voices were not heard here. I am a human rights defender, it is my passion. With the Toolkit, we can go far if we combine our ideas and strengths. In many cases, your strength may be my weakness and your weakness may be my strength. Together, we will hopefully create a community where human rights defenders can speak out, we will create a community where people get justice. Because at the end of the day, that is what we are working for: justice.
Kate Wangui is a WHRD Toolkit Organiser based in Kibera.
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