Women in Nairobi: Too Scared to Pee

July 20, 2010

A woman steps across the polluted water course that runs through Soweto village in Kibera, Kenya, 3 March 2009. Copyright Amnesty International

You are a woman living alone in a one-room tin shack that you rent in Africa’s second largest slum. Because you live near the equator, it is completely dark by 7:00 every evening. You don’t have electricity, and there are no street lights. In fact, there are no “streets” – just a maze of well-worn dirt paths. The only light outside comes from paraffin lanterns hanging from kiosks.

You need to go to the bathroom, but your landlord has not provided any toilet facilities for you or your neighbors. The nearest pit latrine, which is shared by more than 100 people, is almost half a mile away, and it takes 10 minutes to walk there. The last time you left your house to walk to the latrine at night, a gang of young men grabbed you and threatened to rape you, saying that no nice girl would be out on her own at that hour. You were lucky to escape when nearby residents heard your screams and came to see what was wrong.

There are no police posts in this slum; the closest police station is several miles away in a middle-class neighborhood. You know if those gang members come back for you, there is nowhere to turn for help. So you decide to use a “flying toilet” – a plastic bag that you use, then throw out into the open sewer that runs alongside the alley outside your house.

This is the choice that hundreds of thousands of Kenyan women face every day in Nairobi’s slums.

The lack of sanitation facilities adds to women’s insecurity and heightens the risk of gender-based violence. Violence against women is widespread and goes largely unpunished because of ineffective policing. The threat of violence looms large in women’s lives, and many women suffer in silence rather than report crimes due to the multiple obstacles they face to accessing justice.

More than one million people live in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum, yet Kibera does not have even one permanent police station and police do not regularly patrol the area. When police do come into the slums, rather than protect women, they have represented another threat to their security. Police officers have been accused of raping women in the slums. Women fear that if they report violence to the police, they will not recognize it as a crime. They also fear that they will be at risk of reprisal by the perpetrator and the police will not protect them.

Join Amnesty in calling for greater security for women in Nairobi! The Kenyan government should live up to its obligations to provide security and access to justice by consulting with slum residents to establish effective policing and improve confidence in the justice system, making it easier for women to report crimes against them and ensuring that cases are promptly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.