I am not fighting men, says women’s rights defender
Born and raised in Kibera, 31 years ago, Editar Adhiambo Ochieng has experienced and seen first-hand how women suffer disproportionately.
Women are more affected by poor infrastructure, overcrowding, few resources and poor sanitation facilities, making them vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. Yet despite this harsh and grinding reality, they cannot confidently stand up for themselves.
“Kibera is a largely patriarchal society, where women are socialised to proceed with caution and err on the right side of politeness when it comes to dealing with men, and their rights keep being infringed on,” Ochieng says.
To her, teaching young girls to be pleasant, submissive, passive receptive and to never raise their voice has aided violence perpetrated against them.
Growing up as a disempowered young woman, raped at age six and gang-raped at 16, Ochieng spent most of her life angry at the lack of security for women.
Weeks after she was raped in both incidences, the issue was quickly forgotten and life moved on, just like many other such cases in the community.
Feminist for peace
She says violence including rape, defilement, physical assault and discrimination against women are a daily occurrence and is detrimental to survivors and their families.
“Almost every week, there are cases of grave sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Kibra. Every so often, you hear of a young girl abducted and gang-raped on their way to or from school and perpetrators are never caught,” she adds.
Ochieng has refused to let this continue in her lifetime. The urge to defend women rights in her community drove her to join in activities by individuals, government and non-governmental organisations seeking to promote women’s welfare.
In 2017, she founded Feminist for Peace Rights and Justice Centre, an organisation working to create safe spaces for survivors of sexual violence, fight injustices and advocate for women rights in the Kibra slums.
“There is a lot of violence against women in Kibra, unequal political rights, unequal access to health, education and wages.
We don’t want it to be normalised; we endeavour to create an open space for girls and women to join in and amplify their voice uniformly,” she says, willing to stretch herself beyond limits in pursuit for this cause.
“I believe in a just society and the only way we can achieve this is by ensuring that everyone enjoys equal rights. Unfortunately, due to the hostile environment in slums and informal settlements, human rights are not enjoyed by many, especially women,” she states.
In Kibra’s Kisumu Ndogo, Ochieng, through her organisation, is sparking changes. Just by her mere presence, residents cheerfully chant as she walks to meetings.
Nearly every week, she organises a meeting with women of all ages, where latest defilement, assault and domestic violence cases are revealed. She then helps affected families and individuals chart a way forward and report to authorities.
Ochieng says, unlike in the past, more people are willing to report cases of SGBV and openly discussing it, especially now they know the process to follow. She has 18 active members and six pro-feminism partners, some of whom fund her activities. She participates in political forums and joins in peaceful demonstrations as well.
Her latest mega-event, Women Beyond the Odds Exhibition and Awards 2019, took place last month at Kibera’s Kamukunji grounds where women showcased innovative and creative works under the theme #RecogniseHER.
“The event’s main agenda was to celebrate feminists, women human right defenders, environmentalist, artists, women with disability among others in Kibra to realise their goals and ambitions beyond the odds,” she explains.
Eye for MP
While she has made considerate progress, she still faces opposition, especially from men who accuse her of inciting their women.“I have been approached by the police who have asked me to stop what I do or accuse me of radicalising women.
At protests, men have thrown stones at me, always accusing us of fighting them,” she says, adding that no amount of intimidation or assault will stop her from demanding for justice for women.
“I am not fighting men. I don’t hate men; I am a daughter to a man, I am sister to brothers, and I conceived my daughter through a man. My fight is against long-standing patriarchy in Kibra slums, I choose to be the voice of the voiceless and the less fortunate in this community,” she quips. Her aggressive nature has helped her navigate the often rowdy youth.
“I am by nature brave, something that has helped me take the bull by its horn. I believe that people will never be happy with what you are doing,” she says. Her positive feminist ideologies have been an eye-opener to women in the slum, who are now able to understand that oppression should not be normalised.
Her next big move is to vie for Kibra Member of Parliament seat under the Ukweli Party in the upcoming by-election.
“I believe I am better placed to serve Kibera women and by extension residents in parliament. I know our needs and how to solve them. I want to become the first woman and youngest MP from this constituency,” she declares.