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.

Domitilah Guala Wairimu. Photo by Mercy Mumo/Vivian Kiarie

Everyone needs to live in a just and diginified world” even during the COVID-19 Pandemic; Domitilah Guala Wairimu

My name is Domitilah Guala Wairimu.

I am a human rights defender based in Mathare. I have been doing this job since 2016. I do this because l do not like to see injustice and l like helping my community. I deal mostly with the girl child and more specifically cases of gender based violence (GBV).

When COVID-19 was declared in Kenya and lockdowns were issued, GBV cases shot up. This was because of lack of jobs which also exacerbated the poverty that has been ongoing. There are cases in the community that have stayed engraved in my mind during this pandemic period. One is where we had a case of a lady who was 12. Everyone needs to live in a just and diginified world” even during the COVID-19 Pandemic My name is Domitilah Guala Wairimu Women Resilience and Power through the COVID-19 Storm | Stories of Courage & Resilience 41 HIV+ but could not take her Anti-Retroviral drugs because she had no food in the house. We found her in a weak state. We had to find food for her and fundraised to have her house rent paid for a few months. We are still supporting her.

Another case that l had to deal with is one that broke my heart. A 21year old man raped four girls, two were eight years and the other two were six years. The worst thing is that this man is HIV+. He lured the children into his place and carried out the crime. He is currently in prison custody. We are closely following up on this case.

A lot of families have broken up during this season. Some women move out with the children when they see the man is not providing. The men are also leaving their families and co-habiting with women they feel have money. The women who are left alone begin to do anything to survive. In desperation, this includes working as commercial sex workers and domestic house-helps.

When l get a case of domestic violence l first listen to both sides separately to determine what the facts are. This is because they come with a lot of emotions but as you question them on the case you get to know what is happening. It sometimes gets to go to the police station. If the Officer in Charge of the Station (OCS) feels the case can be handled by the local chief, he sends the couple there or even to the elders of the community.

The biggest cases l handle are on rape and defilement and those have sharply increased during this period of COVID-19. I deal a lot with the Community health volunteers. When they point out a case to me l go and pick up the minor and take them to hospital at MSF-Doctors without Borders located within Mathare. Once the minor is examined and treated the man is also tested to either certify that he is the offender or to clear his name.

Then the police come in at this point and the case goes into court. One of our major challenges is dealing with the Borana community who like to have their community elders solve their problems and cases as opposed to going to court. Often most of their deliberations and decisions on cases of sexual abuse end-up being much more detrimental to the victim than helpful. In a case of defilement, they (Borana Community) kill a lamb and have the man who defiled the child marry off the minor.

In other words, we have to still deal with issues of child marriage even during this pandemic! When it comes to the police violence, we usually report cases to Independent Policing Oversight Authority, IPOA, but if there is a problem and we can’t get help, we go to Vigilante House where we push for police action. There are three groups of people that have suffered a lot during this pandemic. The first group is that of single mothers. We have had to support single mothers with what we get because most of them lost their menial jobs when COVID-19 was declared.

The other groups are People Living with Disabilities and those living with HIV/ AIDS. In my opinion, these groups get rejected a lot. We are dealing with a lot of cases that are coming from these groups. These groups had challenges before COVID-19 but after the pandemic, their problems seem to have worsened. They need a lot of support. We need the government to support us by enacting laws that work for us here in the grassroots. When it comes to PWDs, the government needs to carry out an awareness campaign. Most people here don’t know that the government supports PWDs.

My message to my fellow colleagues in the human rights arena; let’s not select which cases we will deal with. If you can’t handle a case, refer it to someone who can handle the case instead of dropping it. This person needs justice. Everyone deserves to live in a just world.

Oxfam is a world-wide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty.