A story of resilience on International Women’s Day 2021: The Kenyan activist protecting women and girls amid the COVID-19 pandemic

A story of resilience on International Women’s Day 2021: The Kenyan activist protecting women and girls amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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

8 March 2021

My name is Editar Adhiambo Ochieng. I’m a mother and woman rights defender.

I’m the founder and CEO of the Feminist for Peace, Rights and Justice Centre (FPRJC), located in the heart of Kibera – the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The FPRJC is a feminist-oriented organisation that focuses on the proactive leadership of young women in the society in addressing issues on sexual- and gender-based violence (GBV).

Editar Adhiambo Ochieng, founder and CEO of the Feminist for Peace, Rights and Justice Centre. Photo: Mercy Mumo/Vivian Kiarie

Our organisation helps women realise 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 abuse on a daily basis. It is a persisting challenge that we must address and eradicate.

During the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, I worked long hours in the community to ensure the safety for women and girls. This meant I had to be away from my family 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 realised that the ravages of Covid-19 were going to last longer than anticipated, I was overcome with fear.

The future of my work and service to the community of Kibera now looked uncertain and grim. But as a voice for the voiceless, I could not just sit there and do nothing. Instead, I mobilised my team of community human rights defenders for some much-needed interventions amid the pandemic.

This meant that I had to stay away from my family and two children. I stayed for about 60 days without seeing them which made me depressed. 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.

We were also confronted by the reality of the rising cases of domestic violence as lockdown regulations were implemented. I was interacting with almost everyone in my community. 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.

The only thing that gave me hope was the constant phone communication with my children, family and close friends. My 11-year-old daughter kept on encouraging me, giving me the motivation that I needed to strengthen my resilience. When you are drowning in difficulties and a child tells you, 'Be strong mama, it will be okay.' This is the best motivation you need.

Covid-19 has affected me and the community very negatively. Women and girls were going through sexual and domestic violence; some women had to seek unsafe abortions; boys were being sexually abused, and people from different parts of the world were experiencing police brutality.

I have been so heartbroken from seeing 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. Many young women developed complications and others lost their lives in the process.

Editar Adhiambo Ochieng out meeting women in the community in Kibera. Photo: Mercy Mumo/Vivian Kiarie

Our office has a small space where we host young women and girls in distress who have been through rape and domestic violence as we try to deal with the authorities. Some women end up leaving their homes and that leads to more broken families in the community. Throughout this period, this small space was full.

Being an activist and a human rights defender in a community that’s so vulnerable to all kinds of abuse is not easy. Not everyone will accept and appreciate what you do. You must persist nonetheless to focus on the goal of offering service to the wellbeing 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 any time is women power!

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