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Where young women are taking charge

Navigating life in Kenyan slums can be challenging, but a group of women have now decided to tackle head-on issues they face

Lilian Kaivilu @liliankaivilu

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 later moved to Majengo area in the city, but the incident still disturbed her. “This case lingered in my memory and I vowed to do something about it,” she says.

Ahmed currently leads Bright Ladies Group in Majengo. This is one of the 51 groups under the ActionAid Kenya Young Urban Women: Life Choices and Livelihoods project. She says the group usually discusses issues such as bodily integrity, sexual reproductive health, gender responsive public services and the need to redistribute unpaid care work.

Despite a 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,” she adds.

Continuous campaign

Using a toll-free SMS service, Ahmed says her group has been handling a defilement case in Majengo since 2018. The case is ongoing at Makadara Law Courts and the victim placed in a safe house.

Joan Nafula, leader of Strong Holders Group in Mukuru. Photo/Lilian Kaivilu

“I believe this case is 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 common to witness female passengers touched indecently.  And while most women shy away from alerting others, Catherine Mwikali says she wouldn’t take such acts kindly.

“This is wrong and borders on sexual harassment. Women need to be aware of such wrongs and act accordingly,” says the mother of two and the leader of Strong Future Girls, a women empowerment group in Majengo.

After attending a training session on bodily integrity via the Life Choices and Livelihoods project, Mwikali was inspired to be a changemaker. “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 adds.

The 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held in New York in March stressed on the need for equal opportunities for women and girls and called for women’s economic empowerment as well as intentional reduction of poverty.

In line with this, Strong Future Girls meets once every week to discuss economic empowerment, domestic, sexual and physical violence among women in Majengo. So far, Mwikali notes, more women are going for family planning options. Early marriages have also reduced among girls in the area.

Engaging men

For Joan Nafula, being a changemaker in her Mukuru Pipeline neighbourhood 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,” she says.

Besides grooming young women to become better leaders in the society, the leader of Strong Holders Group seeks to engage men in women empowerment. So far, it has a membership of 150 women aged between 15 and 29 years and has trained 20 men from the slum. “We have focused on training on cultural challenges and the role of men in women empowerment,” she adds.

Olga Atieno Atara, head of the Young Aspirants Women Empowerment Group, echoes Nafula’s sentiments, adding that cases of sexual harassment, unemployment, retrogressive cultural beliefs and marital rape are commonplace 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 adds.

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, Africa Youth Trust, ActionAid Global Platform and ActionAid Kenya.

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