By Amy Agnew, Amnesty International campaigner for eastern Africa
The last two days since my colleagues and I arrived here in Nairobi have been spent lobbying the Kenyan government to improve women’s security in slums and doing press work in advance of our press conference tomorrow.
We’re launching Amnesty International’s report “Insecurity and Indignity: women’s experiences in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya”. The report highlights the widespread violence against women in Nairobi’s slums. At home, at work and in the street, violence looms large in all their lives. There is little or no police presence in slums and if women fall victim to violence they are highly unlikely to see justice done.
The report also highlights the fact that women’s insecurity is increased as a result of their lack of access to toilets and places to wash. Many women in Nairobi’s slums have to walk for up to 10 minutes to reach a toilet. At night the risk of rape and other violence is too high to attempt to walk to a toilet – they have to find alternatives.
‘Flying toilets’ – disposing of human waste by throwing it into the open in a plastic bag – are common in Nairobi’s slums.
According to Kenyan law, landlords are supposed to provide toilets and places to wash when they build structures. The local authorities, including the City Council and public health officials, are supposed to ensure that landlords comply with their obligations.
While this all works pretty well in non-slum areas in Nairobi – some landlords have even been taken to court for not providing adequate services – this is not the case in slums.
Structures frequently go up without any access to toilets or places to wash. Landlords are often reluctant to invest in such facilities when they know that many of the buildings lack security of tenure and could be destroyed at any point. The government doesn’t hold them to account.
Myself and Justus Nyangaya, Director of AI Kenya, kicked off the lobbying today. We met with officials from the Ministry of Health, the City Council including the Town Clerk, and also some officials from the official regulator of water and sanitation services within Nairobi, the Athi Water Services Board.
In almost all of the meetings, it was agreed that there was little coordination between the relevant Ministries in the government to ensure that women in slums had access to water and sanitation.
Some of the officials we met talked about how hard it was to make landlords comply with their obligations to build toilets and places to wash when it was hard to know who the landlords even were, in such a haphazard environment as a slum.
They talked about the challenges of providing water and sanitation facilities when there is no legal security of tenure for the land on which most residents live. They also cited the lack of space in slums and the haphazard nature in which the slums have developed.
Justus and I agreed with the officials who we met that it is a very complicated situation – a number of different Ministries have overlapping responsibilities which need to work together if water and sanitation are going to be provided in slums, and if women’s security issues are going to be addressed properly.
However, though it is complicated, we stressed that this is no reason to pass the buck from one Ministry to the next. Each Ministry needs to ensure coordination with the others, as well as living up to their obligations so that they are able to work together more effectively.
Some of the officials we spoke to committed to asking the Office of the Prime Minister to bring together all of the relevant officials in an attempt to ensure that water and sanitation is provided for women in slums. Of course we welcomed this and promised to follow up with them to ensure that this goes ahead.
Colleagues from Amnesty International spent the day with journalists in the slums and informal settlements. Women from the community were given the opportunity to tell their stories to the media and to publicly call on the government to live up to its obligations and bring about the changes that they want to see. Some of these women will be present at the press conference tomorrow and some will also join us at government meetings that we have planned later in the week.