7 July 2010

Kenya: Half the Women in City Slums Abused

Photo: Amnesty International
A woman steps across the polluted water course that runs through Soweto village in Kibera, Kenya.

Nairobi — For women and girls living in Nairobi slums, violence comes in every form and from every direction. More than half are scarred by physical, sexual or psychological violence, according to a new report released on Wednesday.

The ever-present threat of violence has left the women too scared to leave their houses to use communal toilets and bathrooms, says the report by human rights group Amnesty International. The available pit latrines are few and far between. And they come at a cost.

The report, Insecurity and Indignity: Women's experiences in the Slums of Nairobi found that perpetrators of these abuses range from youth gangs, intimate partners, family members, employers to government security personnel.

The study was conducted in Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho, and Mukuru kwa Njenga slums between November 2009 and February this year. "Women in Nairobi's informal settlements become prisoners in their own homes at night and sometimes well before it is dark," Amnesty International East Africa researcher Godfrey Odongo said. The situation is compounded by the lack of police presence in the slums.

Women especially find solace in flying toilets -- plastic bags used to keep human excreta overnight before being thrown away, creating yet another health hazard. With few toilets and bathrooms, and the state of insecurity, women bathe in full view of their relatives and children. Nicoletta Kambura, 40, and HIV-positive after being gang-raped in 2006, does laundry in Eastleigh estate for a paltry pay of Sh100 a day.

The women who took part in the study said the violence within the confines of their home was the greatest threat. The perpetrators include family members and their spouses and partners. An official of a non-governmental women's legal aid centre in Kibera says they receive up to 10 cases of domestic violence every week -- mostly women beaten up or raped by their spouses.

Surprisingly though, survivors of the physical sexual abuse at home -- and whose names we have changed in this report to protect their privacy -- saw nothing wrong with it. "Although my husband often beats me up, I just have to stay because I am married. I do not report it because police will simply tell us to reconcile," said Eunice.

The women also keep these abuses under wraps because they lack faith in the justice system and the male-dominated police force. When a women steps out of her house, more violence awaits her. Youth gangs rape, mug and beat up women mainly because of their gender. Some are targeted for their ethnicity.

"Women survivors of violence said they are vulnerable throughout the day," the Amnesty report says. The report further indicts government security officials. In the few instances that slum dwellers get to interact with government security forces, mainly to quell riots, they often commit sexual abuses and other human rights violations.

Jane, who lives in Kibera, says the period following the disputed 2007 presidential election was the most traumatising. She testified before the Waki Commission investigating the violence. On December 30, 2007, when violence broke out, eight Administration Police officers deployed to restore calm raped her, leaving her unconscious.

"The police presence turned out to be a nightmare, which haunts us to this day," recalls Jane. At work, women complained of low pay, physical, psychological and sexual abuses. Wangechi of Korogocho said: "My employer locked me up in his house, while holding a knife, to rape me. Luckily, someone heard my screams and he let me leave. "

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