Editar reclaims her power in Kenya

Editar wearing a purple shirt, smiling

What defines Editar isn't the violence she's experienced.

What defines her is the life she's built from those experiences, the hope she's given hundreds of women, and the power she's reclaimed through her activism.

Editar, 30, has emerged as one of the leading voices for women in her community in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya. She is dedicated to combating the toxic masculinity she says afflicts Kenyan society, and credits Mercy Corps' training for giving her the confidence to help empower other women.

Editor's note: Parts of Editar's story contain mentions of sexual and domestic violence.

Editar's early life

It's not the pain Editar remembers most.

It's the silence.

When she was raped at the age of 16, none of the women who knew about it spoke up on her behalf. Instead, they blamed her for entering a man's house alone.

Yet she doesn't blame the women for their lack of response. In Kenya, she says, women are socialized to believe that avoiding tempting men is their responsibility.

That socialization also led to years of guilt about her violent experience. She couldn't tell her family. She couldn't tell her friends. She began failing in school. For a time, her world became a very dark place.

And her experience isn't unique. Around the world, about 1 in 3 (35 percent) women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. That's why it's so critical that we create programs specifically designed to make women feel safe and empowered.

After a few years passed, Editar began hearing similar stories from other people in her community. She decided to return to school for Gender, Women and Development studies so she could do more to help.

When she started fundraising for tuition money in her community, she told people — including her parents — what happened to her.

"I wanted to tell my father what life is, with my story. And my father cried so much," she says. "And through that at least my father transformed, and he became a feminist. And even he gave us land. Where we come from, women they don't own land. But personally, I own that land because of my father."

Today, she's using the power and strength she found in herself to empower more people in her community, particularly women.

Editar's power

Editar acts as a facilitator to young men and women on the issues of peace, justice and stable communities. Our Kenya Election Violence Prevention (KEVP) program helped her and others in her community address tensions and resolve conflicts peacefully.

Editar also mobilizes women to stand up for themselves in Kenya's male-dominated society, getting them more involved in local political issues.

"Women give me hope," Editar says. "When I see women together and we are hopeful, I know things will be fine, and I believe that whenever women are seated, there is development."

Given past post-election violence, these types of programs are critical. Each time violence has broken out, in 2007 to 2008 and in 2017, women and girls pay a disproportionate price. Their husbands are killed and their properties are destroyed. Gender-based violence also increases during and after the elections.

Editar's own general shop, where she sold beauty products and stationery, was burned during election violence by police officers when a tear gas canister was thrown into her shop, setting it ablaze.

To rebuild her livelihood after losing her business to violence, Editar gets up early every morning and goes to the gates of a nearby school and sells sweets and stationery to children. At least she can earn a living, she says.

Evolving elections

One of the issues sparking the violence was a lack of trust in the country's institutions. That same distrust continues today. KEVP helped both government and opposition supporters identify, respond to and defuse potentially violent situations by working with a variety of groups, including young people, women, community leaders, sports teams and even motorcycle gangs.

How it works: At the ground level, residents of the area could call or text a special number that was staffed around the clock to report outbreaks of violence. Then, like firefighters, members of peace committees headed to the scene and, using de-escalation techniques learned in our trainings, worked to defuse the violence.

Thanks to the KEVP support, Editar has been able to connect with more women in her community, helping to organize them and get them more active in politics, regardless of their political affiliation. "The most important to me, is connecting women, working with women closely," she says. "I was able to meet 300 women, and form ... a vibrant movement."

Together, they advocate for better representation and better policies.

And because of the community support she's received, she's thinking of running for parliament in 2022.

"Women need to come out, women need to speak," she says. "And women, we are going to be powerful."

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