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.

Empowering the community to think positively through COVID-19; Beryl Anyango

My name is Beryl Anyango

I was born and raised in Kibera slums. I have been through a lot since COVID-19 started. My parents lost their jobs as casual laborers in Nairobi when the pandemic started and they could no longer get their basic needs like putting food on the table and also paying for school fees.

I started doing casual jobs so that I could provide for the family since it was very difficult for me to get a decent job and everyone was afraid of the disease. Also many employers had shut down their businesses and so the options were very few. I therefore started doing casual jobs like laundry around different homes and any other available jobs so that I could help to provide for the family.

On a good day I could make up to one thousand shillings which is equivalent to $10 and that is able to sustain my family with food for at least for one week. It is not a lot of money but as a family we try to use the money available well.

Sometimes it is hard for me to get a job since I am not welcomed to many homes to work as a cleaner because of the fear of COVID-19. When I get a client, they end up paying me half for the services or very little because they too have been affected by the pandemic in terms of their livelihoods.

The few jobs I have been able to secure have helped me support my family financially and also sustain my basic needs albeit with a lot of difficulties.

Since the jobs are scarce and during my free time I have been able to learn how to make soap using different chemicals at the Feminist for Peace Rights and Justice Center (FPRJC). Through this initiative, I have been able to make some extra cash to support my family.

As a foundation we started making soap and selling to the people within the community to get funds that could sustain the organization and us as well. My colleagues and I came up with the initiative since soap was on demand and we thought that when we make soap we could make more money both for ourselves and the foundation.

During this period I have realized that many young women and girls were being abused at home. Because of this I decided to use my free time to stay at the foundation’s office educating young girls who were at risk on how to make face masks and to make soap so that they could earn themselves a living. At this time, I also educated them about staying safe and how to detect and deal with abuse and violence at home. I encouraged them to come to the foundation and keep themselves busy reading different books that we have. Our greatest joy as an organization is when we put a smile on people’s faces in the community and give them hope for a better tomorrow. The pandemic has made us restore back our love with the people around us and also within ourselves.

As a feminist, this pandemic has rendered the girl-child most vulnerable since most of them are in high school and now that schools are closed, they are capable of engaging and being sexually exploited in prostitution and hence at greater risk of unwanted pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

We help women realize their full potential by encouraging them to always speak out every time they are abused; ensuring they are confident enough and they can fight for their own rights without the fear of being intimidated by men and other women. This is the best part of our work; to empower women to be able to be strong enough to speak out for themselves.

During this pandemic, I have realized that no women is limited and one can only exercise their full potential when they keep trying hence the resilience spirit that keeps me pushing harder every day without the fear of retaliation.

COVID-19 is not the end of the world. We should take the disease as a challenge and focus more on self-love and development for our own wellbeing and our communities as well.

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