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.

Rising above depression & frustrations for the safety of women and girls in the COVID-19 pandemic; Editar Adhiambo Ochieng of Feminists for Peace, Rights and Justice Center

Editar Adhiambo. Photo by Mercy Mumo/Vivian Kiarie

My name is Editar Adhiambo Ochieng.

I am a young mother and woman rights defender from Kibera slums. I am the founder and the CEO of Feminist for Peace, Rights and Justice Center (FPRJC) located in the heart of Kibera slums Kisumu Ndogo village. The FPRJC is a Feminist oriented organization that focuses on the proactive leadership of young women in the society in addressing issues on sexual and gender based violence.

Our organization helps women realize their full potential and also get fair justice and equal opportunities in the society. People who have suffered the most in the community are women. They experience violence, depression and other abuses on a daily basis. It is a persisting challenge that we must address and totally eradicate.

During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was forced to work for long hours in the community to ensure the safety for women and girls. This meant I had to be away from my family and children for endless hours. It was a challenging time. We were dealing with a strange pandemic with catastrophic consequences. We just did not know how bad the devastating impact was going to be on our lives and livelihood but we had to keep going.

When I realized that the ravages of COVID-19 were going to last longer than anticipated through the regular information provided by the ministry of health, I was overcome with fear. The future of my work and service to the community of Kibera now looked uncertain and grim.

As a young fiery human rights defender who has diverse stripes as a voice for the voiceless in the community, I could not just sit there and do nothing. I took it upon myself to mobilize my team of community human rights defenders for some much-needed interventions amidst the pandemic. This meant that I had to stay away from my family and my two children. I had to plough all my efforts into ensuring women and girls in Kibera still get the provisions and support they needed.

I stayed for about sixty days without seeing my children and family which led me into depression. I stayed away from home because as I worked with the community I was afraid I would infect my children and family with the disease in case I contracted it.

I worked for over two months straight when COVID-19 was announced by the Ministry of Health without seeing my children and family. We had to organize to get food and medical supplies out to the most vulnerable in the community. We were also confronted by the reality of the rising cases of domestic violence in homes as the lockdown regulations were implemented. I was interacting with almost everyone in my community and I felt like I was so vulnerable to the disease. I had to take my children away from Kibera because I felt like I would be affecting them every day in a different way since I was dealing with so many different situations at a go. I was also afraid that I could expose them to the disease even though I was using my protective gears to protect myself. I felt that my children would be safer being away from me for some time. During this period I was not mentally stable and I went into depression for a period of time because I was missing my children and also because it was hard to make them understand what was really happening. The only thing that gave her hope was the constant phone communication with my children, family and close friends. My 11 year old daughter kept on encouraging me and that gave me the motivation I needed and strengthened my resilience. When you are drowning in difficulties and a child tells you “be strong mama, it will be ok” then this is the best motivation you need”.

COVID-19 has affected me and my community very negatively because of how I saw women and girls going through domestic violence; how young girls were being raped by their relatives and strangers; how some women desperately had to seek unsafe abortions; how boys were being sodomized by strangers and relative and how people from different parts of the world went through police brutality which lead to so many deaths.

During this period I have been so heartbroken because of how I have seen people from my community suffer. Most hospital facilities were closed and many girls and women could not access contraceptives that led to so many unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions that made many young women develop complications and others lost their lives in the process. Other women have developed complication during delivery since they could not access proper maternity services. A lot of women experienced domestic violence that led to so many broken families, others developed complications and some lost their lives in the process.

In our office we have a small space called safe house where we host young women and girls in distress who have been through rape and domestic violence as we try to solve the matter with the authorities. Some women end up leaving their matrimonial homes due to domestic violence and that leads to the increase of broken families in the community. During this period, this small space was full throughout. We could barely manage it. The job however, had to be done.

Being an activist and a human rights defender in a community that is so vulnerable to all kinds of abuse is not easy because not everyone will accept and appreciate what you do. You must persist nonetheless to focus on the goal of offering service to the well-being of women and girls.

This pandemic has really taught me a lot. For instance, I have learned that not everyone will be happy when your purpose in life is to help others and ensure their wellbeing. For us as a foundation every time and anytime is women power!

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