“Like They Grew Up Without Sisters”

“These men, it’s like they grew up without sisters. That’s basically impossible, almost everyone has sisters here, but that’s what it’s like. These boys, they go to all boys’ secondary schools and they get out and they have no idea how to relate to girls”. That is what my program director told me during my gender issues meeting when I arrived in Kenya a week ago.

Gender issues exist around the world, but the ones that we deal with in the US are not necessarily the same as the ones that women deal with in other countries. In Kenya, for example, women are not always treated as equals to men. Infidelity is widely accepted for men here and it’s not necessarily taboo for a man to bring his girlfriend to a night with the guys even if he has a wife waiting at home. This would likely never fly in the United States, but it does happen here.

Today we got to visit the Kibera slums. Kibera is the largest informal settlement in Nairobi, really in Kenya (possibly in Eastern Africa but I can’t actually confirm that for you). Life in Kibera can be very difficult–there are sewage problems, and services like the police and fire dept cannot navigate the informal settlements. There is also no running water. People live in tiny homes, but they make it work. Please do not believe every awful thing you read about Kibera if you decide to look into what the slums here are like; the people here are filled with hope; they work hard and they make a lot out of what little they have. The slums are not the depressing hole that people paint them as.

They are, however, very difficult to live in, especially for women. We were told today by people who live in the slums that you cannot really send a girl out after dark because of the risk of her being raped. In a place where the police are not really around to regulate things, it is very difficult to get justice for victims, and very difficult to get help to prevent these situations from arising. Girls are often grabbed on the streets here-~-not just in Kibera but all over the place, grabbed by the arm, stopped by men, etc (it has already happened to me once or twice)-~-who want something from them. Not all of them are as able to walk away. In Kibera, girls aren’t really taught financial management; they often end up in sugar daddy relationships or are pulled into prostitution (which doesn’t even necessarily pay). Since school fees are so high, many students, especially girls, never complete their educations in Kenya, especially in the slums.

Things aren’t all bad though. There are many, many non profits working to end this from inside Kibera. Programs reach out to girls to teach them reproductive health and financial literacy. One of these programs, run by the Initiative for Community Action is called the Princess Program: it recruits young women to mentor girls in the schools and teach them how to be more independent, so that they won’t be trapped by perceived obligations to a man. Another program in Kibera, which was run in the last few months, focused on getting people to speak out against rape, to come forth and report what has been happening.

Change is happening in Kenya and in Kibera…and no matter how tragic the media makes it seem, hope is alive in the slums. You just have to know where to look.


~ by Randi Saunders on January 10, 2012.

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