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Rape risk from slum toilets

Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Mathare is one of the biggest slums in Africa. 20 July 2007. Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Vue aérienne du bidonville de Mathare (photo d’archives) : Des infrastructures sanitaires inadaptées exposent les femmes à la violence sexuelle dans les bidonvilles
Judy Wanjiku, 26, lost a tooth during an attempted rape in Nairobi's Mathare slum as she walked to a toilet near her home one evening.

"It was around 8pm and I needed to use to the toilet. As I walked towards one, I saw a group of men, one of whom I recognized so I knew they would not do anything to me," Wanjiku said.

"I called out the name of the man I knew and was surprised when he was the one who held me while the others tried to undress me. They beat me up because I was screaming and one of them knocked out my tooth. My screaming saved me because people came to my rescue as one of the men was removing his trousers."

Wanjiku's rescuers helped her to seek medical help.

"Days after I returned from hospital, the gang came after me, wanting to beat me up. I had to promise them that I would not report them or say anything because I reckoned that even if I reported to the police, the police would not be there to protect me all the time," Wanjiku told IRIN on 7 July.

Ordeals such as Wanjiku's, faced daily by many women in informal settlements, are the focus of an Amnesty International report, Insecurity and Indignity: Women's Experiences in the Slums of Nairobi, launched on 7 July in Nairobi.

The report decries the constant threat of sexual violence and the lack of police presence in slums, which has left many women too scared to leave their homes to use communal toilet and bathroom facilities.

Despite the government's efforts to improve housing and infrastructure in informal settlements, more needs to be done to address needs and issues that are unique to women, Godfrey Odongo, Amnesty International’s East Africa researcher, told a news conference during the launch of the report.

Amnesty International calls on the government to force slum landlords to provide decent sanitation, or help them to do so if they are unable. The government should also improve security, lighting and policing in slums, the report said.

Lack of enforcement

"There is a huge gap between what the government commits to do, and what is going on in the slums every day," Odongo said. "Kenya's national policies recognize 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."

This, Odongo said, had made women in Nairobi's settlements "become prisoners in their own homes at night and sometimes well before it is dark. They need more privacy than men when going to the toilet or taking a bath and the inaccessibility of facilities makes women vulnerable to rape, leaving them trapped in their own homes."

Even by day, Odongo said, public bathroom facilities are few and far between in slum areas and often involve walking long distances.

Quoting "official figures", Amnesty International said only 24 percent of residents in Nairobi's informal settlements have access to toilet facilities at household levels.

Justus Nyang'aya, the director of Amnesty International's Kenya office, said Amnesty International had shared the report with relevant government offices, such as the public health department, the Ministry of Water and Nairobi City Council, and had received positive responses.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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