Rahma Wako, is a fierce human rights defender passionately involved in the rights of women and children. She started human rights work in 1986 and has never looked back. For Rahma, she was not aware that she was doing human rights work when she started; according to her she was just doing what she thought was the right thing to do. It started when she was a young girl, the prettiest among her other siblings. Her parents had arranged for her to get married at an early age. Rahma fought this decision with all her might, she wanted to go to school. It was not an easy fight. She eventually ran away from home and attended primary school at a Christian school. She was the only Muslim. Rahma was very determined and focused, and amidst many challenges she sat her national exams and was called to Pangani Girls high school. Sadly, this is where the education journey ended for her. She had no money to pay school fees.
She started engaging in advocating for girl child education within the Muslim community in Kiamako. It was not an easy fight. People had not fully grasped the concept of girl child education. She also started fighting female genital circumcision which was a common practice in her community. This was the hardest for her because she was fighting a people’s culture, and she did this by herself. She went from door to door speaking to men and women against this practice telling them about the dangers they pose to their children. She later joined Bunge la Wamama Mashinani, a group of local women activist that met once a week over chai (tea) to discuss rampant human rights issues in the community.
Today, Rahma Wako boasts of several achievements in the human rights field. First, she is happy that the girl child is given equal importance as the boy child and that they have equal opportunities.
Also, her fight against forced female circumcision has paid off. She remembers during her fight, she encountered a doctor who used to conduct it in her community and despite talking to her severally, the said doctor would not heed to her pleas. Rahma fought for what she believed in and the doctor ended up in Lanagata women’s prison. This practice not entirely over, but she is determined to see that no other girl goes through this experience.
In December 2015, Rahma was nominated for Mathare Heroes Award as the human rights activist of the year. This was a tough competition. She was nominated against other strong human rights defenders in the community. Luckily, she emerged the winner! She had the most votes. This was the first time she saw her efforts being recognized by the public. She was ecstatic! And she deserved it.
In 2016 she joined the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), where she continued to fight for child and women rights. She is part of the reproductive justice campaign which handles issues like rape, gender based violence, female genital circumcision and civic education on child rights and family planning. At one point she was facing a difficult time with the leaders in her community because of a rape case that resulted in two young boys from her community going to jail. They were not especially happy that it was a woman responsible for their arrest. According to them, a woman should not be involved with issues of human rights. They called her and asked her to withdraw the case, or else they would disown her. Of course she could not withdraw they case, so she called other human rights defenders from MSJC and Bunge la Mwananchi to speak to her community leaders and explain her position as an activist. That is her passion to fight for the rights of others. The human rights defenders showed up in full support of Rahma; they talked to the wazee of her community and things calmed down.
It was also in 2016 that Rahma Wako was nominated for Nairobi County Human Rights Activist of the year. She recalls that this was not easy as well. It was a very stiff competition. Other human rights defender had also been nominated. The winner had to get the majority vote, and once again Rahma Wako did it! She won! She was the Nairobi County Human rights activist of the year! This brought tears to her eyes. Tear of joy, and disbelief, and triumph. She was both humbled and super happy! Along with the award, she received a token to appreciate her.
On 24th December 2016, she held an office party to celebrate her win at our centre. All expenses were on her. Foods and drinks were in plenty. She also brought a rose flower for all who were present. It was her day. After enjoying the food she has prepared for her, everyone present gave her congratulatory messages and hugs and some of us told us how much of an inspiration she is, and we obviously love her and are very proud of her. This was very emotional for her, she was in tears most of the time. She then narrated to us her life story and her journey as a human rights defender. We have deep seated respect for Mama Rahma, which is the name we gave her, she is like a mother to us.
She also hosted the leaders from her community who wanted her to quit activism and they all celebrated her win. It was also an emotional session for Ma Rahma as she talked to the wazees. Some of them were fighting tears, they felt they were wrong and had not been fair to her. They now give her full support and are very proud of her.
After the award, Ma Rahma did not stop there. If anything it gave her moral to keep at it! She has started justice clubs in five primary schools in Kia Maiko area. That is: Valley Bridge, Ndururuno, Daima, Salama and Huruma primary schools. Using these clubs she talks to the pupils about their rights and teaches them how to be responsible citizens. On 2nd February 2017 ,partnering with Baraka medical hospital and MSJC reproductive health rights campaign , there will be an outreach on women rights and in attendance, the pupils, female teachers and parents are expected to attend.
Rahma Wako is a hero, I am glad to have met and lucky enough to have worked with.
Report by Juliet Wanjira, Coordinator Reproductive Health Rights Campaign