Winny Obure is a young feminist and Women’s Rights Defender from Kenya. She has over 8 years of experience in community development advocating for Gender Equality and Social Economic Empowerment of Women and Girls.
Winny Obure, 30, was defiled at the age of 10 by a relative. Five years later, she was abused again by a family friend. The nasty incidents altered the course of her life forever. She is now a women rights activist. She shares her journey with Joan Thatiah.
As a little girl growing up in Port Victoria in Budalangi, 30-year-old Winny Obure wanted to be a journalist. She dreamed of a fast life in from of flashing lights and cameras. Then when she was 10, she was defiled by a relative and then by a family friend.
“I felt so defeated,” she painfully recalls the nasty incidents that altered the course of her life forever.
Sex education wasn’t a topic that was openly spoken when she was growing up so she didn’t know how to say that she had been violated. She, however, knew that what had happened to her should never have happened.
When she was 15 and in Form two it happened again, this time it was a trusted family friend, a man in his 40s. He had been entrusted with enrolling her into a new school in the neighbouring country of Uganda and he had taken her for an interview when he forced himself on her. Scalded, Winny tried pushing the incident at the back of her mind so that she could concentrate on studies at her new school.
“When I was in Form Three, this man attempted to rape me again. He got me out from school telling the teachers that he was going to buy me some school supplies. The teachers trusted him as he was my known guardian. He took me to a lodging in a nearby town and when he attempted to force himself on me I decided to try and talk him out of it,” she recalls.
He tried to sweet-talk her. He told her that he would marry her, then told her that she shouldn’t refuse because he was helping pay for her fees. She refused, fought him off and ran away. Back at school, Winny made one of the hardest decisions of her life. She decided to quit school in Form Three.
TAKING A STAND
“I knew that if I went back to school especially now since this man was feeling entitled for helping pay my fees, he would try to defile me again. I was performing well but I decided that if I would ever go back to school, it would be on my terms, not in exchange for my body. Women and girls have a right to education and to achieve their dreams but not at the mercy of men, patriarchy or culture.”
Out of school at just 16 years Winny began talking to girls in her community in Budalangi. She didn’t know much at this point but she had seen women and girls in her village having traditional sex and exchanging sex for gifts, pocket money, school fees, fish and sometimes sanitary pads. She knew this wasn’t right.
At 17, she decided to move to Nairobi in the hope of getting a job, saving up enough money and going back to school. She believed that this new environment would help her to refocus and support her younger sister so she would have a better shot at life that she’d had. Winny took on street hawking and merchandise promotional jobs with various agencies it was while she was here that she realized the problems she had seen women and girls face in Budalangi were not Budalangi problems. They were everywhere.
“I had three adult men at different times try to rape me. One of them was a bishop pretending to offer me a better job and the other was my relative, and then a potential employer,” she recalls.
After a year of being in the big city, she met someone who changed her life. He shared the same vision as her and in the five years that they were together, they formed Sebuleni a community initiative in Kibera where they lived. They used this platform to speak to children and young people born and living with HIV to try and fight the stigma and to get them to adhere to their medication schedules and build their leadership skills.
In 2017, Winny, now a mother to 4-year-old Israel, received another blow that she is still trying to recover from. She tearfully narrates how her five-month-old daughter Sabbath Fadhili died from negligence at a Nairobi Hospital.
“Losing a child is the most painful thing a human being can experience. It’s worse when there’s no reason for the death. Fadhili’s death changed me in many ways; it broke me in many ways, but it also strengthened my resolve to keep fighting more for the rights for girls and women,” she says.
FIGHTING FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Now, she is a feminist and human rights defender. Through her initiative Teen Seed, she does activism work promotion of sexual reproductive health and rights, rescues girls who have been defiled and if she can’t link survivors of sexual abuse with legal support.
“I have committed myself to be on high alert for rape and defilement cases. Even if I get a call at 3 am I will go and give the woman or girl whatever she needs whether it is to get to the hospital for post-rape care or a safe house for psychosocial support and safety.”
She also works as a project manager at Athens Networks What Girls Want project. A platform that ensures that the lived experiences of adolescent girls and young women in all of their diversities shape the programmes and policies designed to reduce the HIV burden within a human rights framework. Winny reckons that for the longest time, decisions have been made for girls without listening to them.
“If I had the power to change just one thing, I would smash the patriarchy and all of its systemic roots in our communities, governments and organizations. I would have a situation where gender balance is practised from as soon as children are in their mother’s womb. We wouldn’t have baby showers where mothers expecting girls are showered with pink, soft and cuddly things. All children need to know they are powerful and have equal opportunities from birth.”
Story by Joan Thatia. Joan Thatia is an author and a feature story writer for the Saturday Nation. You can email her at [email protected]