Stories of courage and resilience from Grassroots Women Human Rights Defenders and Feminists in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is a production of the Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights defenders Kenya (CGHRDs Kenya). This publication was supported and funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

Threatened for my COVID-19 Interventions; Habu Dorcas Kenya Peasants League (KPL) Kangemi cluster

My name is Habu Dorcas.

I am a member of the Kenya Peasants League (KPL) Kangemi cluster. I am in charge of fundraising and coordination of KPL activities within Kangemi. I live in dam area, a slum section in Kangemi. This Covid-19 period has been quite a challenge especially for us slum dwellers. Majority of people within my community lost their sources of income as most of them survive on menial jobs.

When the pandemic hit, life in the community became very difficult. Most families not knowing what to do next. One of my realizations was that children around the community were left unattended to as their parents struggled to look for means to sustain their families. The parents had lost their jobs that were their source of livelihood. This resulted in increased crime rates within the area. There were cases of children as young as ten years engaging in crime or resorting to becoming street children just to get something to eat.

As human rights defenders, this situation was very challenging for us. We decided to mobilize the little resources we had amongst ourselves and we started making free meals for children in my area. We cooked and fed children in Kibagare, Kaptagat and Dam slums.

We also realized that access to sanitary towels for girls in our area was another problem. I had to mobilize again for menstrual hygiene materials that we would distribute to our girls. We managed to visit 200 girls from Kibagare, Kaptagat, Dam, Dumboini, Mwimuto and Buffalo informal settlements. We also took the opportunity to talk to these girls on Sexual and Reproductive Health issues, especially now that they were at home and with minimal supervision from their parents and guardians.

Due to the congestion in slum areas, we knew we were at a higher risk of getting COVID. As an organization, we also tasked ourselves with providing hand washing stations in our community. We used to make our own soap and set up hand washing stations in different sections that people would access for free.

One of the biggest challenges we had was resource mobilization for the interventions we took up in the community. Contributing from the little we had was not easy. Some of us even ended up lacking completely because we had given out all we had.

Sustainability for our projects was a major problem. The feeding initiative collapsed almost immediately because we did not have the money to sustain it. We also had problems getting girls to come out for sensitization. Most of them expected to at least get some money to go back home with but we did not provide this.

There was also Kazi kwa Vijana initiative that was happening in the community. I rallied youth to apply for these jobs so they could at least have a source of income. The recruitment process was very corrupt with the local administration selecting their preferred people. As a known human rights defender, some of these youths came to me with their grievances. I took the matter up with our chief and he was not happy being challenged by a young woman. He made it very clear that I was a very small problem that he can deal with. This issue was brought home to my father who also supported the local authority. My own father threatened to kill me if the local administration could not do it. He ended up chasing me away from home because of the work I do defending youth and women in the community.

Being chased away from home was a big blow but did not deter me from doing the right thing. I still pursued the Kazi kwa Vijana recruitment issue and since our local authority was not responsive, I took it up to the district office in Westlands. The chief was summoned and had to redo the recruitment. In the second round, I was given the opportunity to recommend a number of youth for the jobs.

One of my biggest success stories is getting a number of youth into the Kazi kwa Vijana initiative. We also got some youth in Kibagare area into a hygiene program. About 60 youth got into this project titled “Crime Si Poa” (Crime is not cool). The mentorship program saw some of these youths start businesses from the funds they were able to save from the project. As KPL, we also got to support two women start small businesses to support their families.