I was born in Kibera and I grew up in Kibera. Being in the informal settlement, I can confess that it is not an easy journey. You are born into a very tough environment; an environment with unsuitable shelter, no access to clean water, it is a challenge. Furthermore, there is a violence of all forms; robbery with violence, gender-based violence and many other forms of violence. We grew up with gender-based violence, thinking this is a normal thing because you can see it; you can witness it in the daytime and at night. It happens in houses and it happens on the journey to school. You have to walk a really long distance to access the public school, without your parents accompanying you and showing you the way as they have to leave for work early.
I am a single mother, with a two-year-old child. I am a paralegal in women's and children’s rights. I have a certificate in social law and counselling, a diploma in social work and qualification in sustainable human development. Throughout my life, I have been working in the community. I started working in a church and this is where I got to fully understand the scale of the issues facing women living in the slum. That is when I realised that there is much more we need to do. There are issues with poverty, chronic diseases, gender-based violence, and issues with women just struggling to attain and keep hold of their rights. Most of the women in Kibera work as casual workers without job security. They often have children to look after. They face issues around housing; ‘landlords’ do not understand rights, and some people are evicted in unclear circumstances. In Kibera, people do not own pieces of land, but there are structures, so everyone in the community needs to communicate about who has which structure and respect this ownership.
I give advice when I see things are not going the right way for someone, for example if the person has legal or social issues. I try to ensure that everybody’s rights have been protected in each family. When I see a woman feeling empowered and speaking out, I realise that the crime against that woman should not have happened in the first place. A man should not do this to women or to their children. When people realise that there is a legal process that can be followed, for a child, for a woman, for a man, to get justice, that, for me, is rewarding.
I face many challenges in my work. It takes too long to find justice for women. A woman comes to you saying she was evicted, you push this case, you engage lawyers, but sometimes the lawyers are not following the cases to the end. It is disappointing. On top of that, the cost of hiring a lawyer is really high. The community sees me as a saviour, but they do not realise that as a paralegal I cannot go to court, I can only advise them.
Once I was handling a case of a primary school girl and in fact, I gave the girl shelter in my house for three months. I started to receive threats, “if you don’t let that girl go, then you will see end results”. I realised that even if I make this girl leave my house, it was not safe for me to continue staying in this house, so I had to move. When I realised my life was in danger I had to surrender everything; it was very sad I could not continue to help the girl.
There is so much we can do in the community. There are issues of women and legal empowerment, social empowerment, family development and child rights. Women’s and children’s rights should be the key agenda for us in the community. I am adding my existing knowledge and experience to my role as a Toolkit Organiser. We, the Toolkit Organisers, have ideas and capacities; we only need the platform. The WHRD Toolkit can provide that platform.
Judith Adhiambo Ochieng