KENYA: Women in Kenya Fight Back Against Sexual Violence

Sunday, August 1, 2010
Global Media
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

According to the Nairobi Women's hospital, one person is raped every thirty minutes in Kenya. Sexual violence leaves many women fearful for their lives. However, many are discovering a way to fight back. Dr. Jake Sinclair, founding member of Ugamaan, a non-governmental organization that provides help to rape victims told MediaGlobal,

“A recent survey found that in the village in Korogocho (a slum outside of Nairobi), one in every four women are raped every year. The same survey also found that over 70 percent of women had been raped at least once in their lifetime.”

Sinclair explained, “Rapes in Kenya are often incomprehensively heinous, old grandmothers brutally raped, sometimes to their death, and babies or young children can be permanently disfigured. However, very little is being done to help these women.

Not only must women in sub-Saharan Africa deal with the psychological and physical devastation that comes with rape, but there is also an additional danger of contracting HIV. Both the World Health Organization and UNAIDS have found that sexual violence is a primary cause of HIV transmission.

Because of the high risk of sexual violence, women in Nairobi are fearful of using the public bathrooms and toilet facilities, but are currently left with no other restroom alternative.

These women live in the slums of Nairobi, where only 24 percent of residents have access to household toilet facilities. The other 76 percent are forced to use communal bathrooms which can be a ten minute walk away. Following the dark paths that wind through the alleys of the slums, the risk of danger for these women is high.

Once they reach the bathrooms, the facilities are often inadequate. When using toilets and bathing, women have a greater need for privacy than men. Substandard toilets and bathrooms put them in greater danger of sexual violence, especially when there is little or no security. For example, Nairobi's largest slum, Kibera, is home to one million people and has no police post. Lack of police enforcement not only encourages violence, it means sex offenders often elude punishment.

Noting the severity of this conflict, Sinclair argued that more focus should be on preventing sexual violence than placing the emphasis on support after the violence occurs.

“The meager resources that are committed to helping these women are focused primarily on aftercare. To try and stop this scourge ‘after the fact' is tremendously resource intensive,” Sinclair said.

Instead of waiting for the government to take action and force slum landlords to adhere to building codes that call for every dwelling to have access to a toilet, Sinclair proposes an alternative.

Sinclair's new program focuses on stopping the attack before it occurs. The program is designed to empower women and teach self-defense by using simple, effective, and memorable self-defense techniques. He has determined that up to 85 percent of assaults could be stopped by using the voice and other self-defense strategies.

“In our times, self-defense methods are one of the most important underutilized tools for women and children in high rape areas of the world,” Sinclair stated.

While the number of women affected by sexual violence in Kenya remains high, women's self-defense programs offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dire situation. While waiting for the government to implement a new bathroom strategy, these women are taking their lives into their own hands and protecting themselves against sexual violence in Kenya.