Kenya: Fear of attack leaves women prisoners in their homes

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Kenya: Fear of attack leaves women prisoners in their homes

LONDON - Women and girls in Nairobi’s slums live under the constant
threat of sexual violence, leaving them often too scared to leave their
houses to use communal toilet and bathroom facilities, Amnesty
International said in a report released today.

Insecurity and
Indignity: Women’s experiences in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya

details how the  failure of the government to incorporate the slums in
urban plans and budgets has resulted in poor access to services like
sanitation, which hits women in slums and informal settlements
especially hard.

“Women in Nairobi’s settlements become
prisoners in their own homes at night and some times well before it is
dark,” said Godfrey Odongo, Amnesty Internationals East Africa
researcher. “They need more privacy than men when going to the toilet or
taking a bath and the inaccessibility of facilities make women
vulnerable to rape, leaving them trapped in their own homes.

“The
fact that they are unable to access even the limited communal toilet
facilities also puts them at risk of illness.”

The situation is
compounded by the lack of police presence in the slums and when women
fall victim to violence they are unlikely to see justice done. Kibera,
Nairobi’s largest slum and home to up to a million people, has no police
post.

“I always underestimated the threat of violence,” said
19-year-old Amina of Mathare slum. “I would go to the latrine any time
provided it was not too late. This was until about two months ago when I
almost became a victim of rape.”

Amina was set upon by a group
of four men while she walked to the latrine at 7pm. They hit her,
undressed her and were about to rape her when her cries were heard and a
group of residents came to save her. Although she knew one of the men
involved in the assault, Amina did not go to the police as she feared
reprisal attacks.

Unable to leave their one-roomed houses after
dark, many women in informal settlements resort to ‘flying toilets’ –
using plastic bags thrown from the home to dispose of waste.

Women
also told Amnesty International how the poor sanitary conditions they
live in – which include widespread disposal of human excreta in the open
because of lack of adequate access to toilets – directly contribute to
cases of poor health and to high health care costs.

Other women
describe the humiliation of bathing in front of their relatives and
children.

Even by day, public bathroom facilities are few and
far between and invariably involve walking long distances. According to
official figures, only 24 per cent of residents in Nairobi’s informal
settlements have access to toilet facilities at household level.

Despite
some positive features, Kenya’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG)
policies to meet the target on sanitation do not address the specific
needs of women who face the threat of violence because they lack
adequate sanitation.

They also do not address the lack of
enforcement of regulations requiring owners and landlords to provide
sanitation.

 “There is a huge gap between what the government
commits to do, and what is going on in the slums everyday” said Godfrey
Odongo.

“Kenya’s national policies recognise the rights to
sanitation and there are laws and standards in place. However, because
of decades of failure to recognize slums and informal settlements,
planning laws and regulations are not enforced in these areas.

“The
lack of enforcement of these laws has ensured that landlords and
structure owners in the slums can get away without providing any toilets
or shower places for their tenants”

Lack of security of tenure
also remains a long standing problem for tenants, despite a national
land policy in place, removing any incentives that landlords or owners
could have to ensure proper sanitation, and measures to increase
security.

Amnesty International calls on the Kenyan government
to enforce landlords’ obligations to construct toilets and bathrooms in
the slums and settlements and provide assistance to structure owners who
are unable to meet the costs of constructing toilets and bathrooms.

The
government must also take immediate measures to improve security,
lighting and policing and ensure that relevant government authorities
coordinate their efforts to improve the water and sanitation situation
in the settlements.

Note to editors:

  • To
    arrange interviews or photos please contact Katy Pownall on +44(0)207
    413 5729 or email katy.pownall@amnesty.org
  • Kenya
    has signed up to the international Millenium Development Goal target on
    sanitation, to reduce by half by 2015 the proportion of people without
    sustainable access to sanitation.
  • Amnesty International’s report
    Insecurity and Indignity: Women’s experiences in the slums of
    Nairobi, Kenya
    can be found here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR32/002/2010/en
  • The
    report follows Amnesty International’s initial report: The Unseen
    Majority: Nairobi’s Two Million Slum Dwellers
      which can be found
    at:http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR32/005/2009/en.
  • Both
    reports form part of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign
    which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen
    global poverty. As part of the campaign, Amnesty International is
    calling on all governments to end forced evictions, ensure equal access
    to public services for people living in slums and their active
    participation in decisions affecting their lives. For more information
    visit http://demanddignity.amnesty.org/campaigns-en/
###

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