Young women leading change in Kenya’s slums
By Lilian Kaivilu
While growing up in Nairobi’s Kibera slums, Amina Ahmed, a mother of three, witnessed domestic violence against a relative. At the time, however, there were no clearly defined channels to report such cases. She would later move to Majengo area in the city. “This case lingered in my memory and I vowed to do something about it,” she remembers.
Ahmed currently leads Bright Ladies group in Majengo area in Nairobi. This is one of the 51 groups under the ActionAid Kenya Young Urban Women: Life Choices and Livelihoods project. According to Ahmed, the group usually discusses such issues as bodily integrity, sexual reproductive health, gender responsive public services and the need to redistribute unpaid care work.
Despite s few challenges of non-commitment by members at the initial stages, Ahmed says the group has made remarkable strides in promoting human rights in the area. “My goal was to see women free from any form of oppression.” Using a toll-free SMS service, Ahmed says her group has handled a defilement case in Majengo since 2018. The case is now ongoing at Makadara Law courts and the victim safely placed in a safe house. “I believe this case is bit only a win for us but has also served as a warning to perpetrators of sexual violence in this area. As women, we must speak against such acts and take legal action when necessary because if we don’t speak, who will fight for our girls?” she poses.
At most bus stops in the city, it is not uncommon to witness indecent touches to some female travelers. While most women shy away from such acts, Catherine Mwikali says she wouldn’t take such acts kindly. “This is very wrong and borders on sexual harassment. Women need to be aware of such wrongs and act accordingly,” Mwikali asserts.
Mwikali, a mother of two is the leader of Strong Future Girls, a women empowerment group operating in Majengo informal settlements in Nairobi.
After attending a training session on bodily integrity via the ActionAid Kenya Young Urban Women: Life Choices and Livelihoods project, Mwikali was inspired to be a changemaker in her neighbourhood. “After going through the training sessions on basic rights of women, I felt compelled to transfer this knowledge to my fellow women in Majengo. I also wanted to speak to the women in my area in a language that they understand,” she says.
During the recently concluded 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held in New York, the commission stressed on the need for equal opportunities for women and girls to take part in all matters affecting the society. The commission also called for women’s economic empowerment as well as intentional reduction of poverty.
In line with these aspirations, Strong Future Girls group meets once every week to discuss matters economic empowerment, domestic, sexual and physical violence among women in Majengo. So far, Mwikali notes that more women are going for family planning options. Early marriages have also reduced among girls in the area.
Engaging men in women empowerment
For Joan Nafula, being a change maker in her Mukuru Pipeline area is not easy. “I do this work because I want to leave an impact in my community. But it is not always easy to have women consistently attend and actively participate in these training sessions,” says Nafula.
Her group is part of the 51 women empowerment groups located in Mukuru and Majengo in Nairobi and Ziwa La Ngómbe, Bangladesh, Muoroto and Owino Uhuru in Mombasa.
Besides grooming young women to become better leaders in the society, the leader of Strong Holders group in Mukuru Pipeline seeks to engage men in matters women empowerment. So far, the group has a membership of 150 women aged between 15 and 29 years and has trained 20 men from the slum. “We have focused our training on cultural challenges and the role of men in women empowerment,” she added.
While the project has seen a more empowered generation of young women in the informal settlements, Olga Atieno Atara, one of the leaders says that all forms of violence against women will only be won if stakeholders involved men in the process.
The head of the Young Aspirants women empowerment group cites sexual harassment, unemployment, retrogressive cultural beliefs and marital rape as commonplace forms of women’s rights violations in Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums from where her group operates.
“But after the training, we now see more women willing to negotiate with their husbands regarding family planning and men assisting their wives with house chores,” she says.
According to Winfred Adhiambo, the project officer for Africa Youth Trust, over 4,000 women have so far participated in the leadership development training curriculum covering unpaid care work, sexual and reproductive health rights, gender responsive public service, bodily integrity and decent work and economic security. The curriculum was developed in collaboration with Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), Africa Youth Trust (AYT), ActionAid Global Platform (GP) and ActionAid Kenya.