Rape threat stalks Kenya’s slums

Communal toilet facilities leave women prisoners in their own homes, report says.

Amina, a 19-year-old resident of Mathare slum in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, was attacked as she was walking to the toilet one evening.

“I always underestimated the threat of violence,” Amina said.

“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.”

Four men hit her, undressed her and were ready to rape her when a group of residents heard her cries and came to save her.

‘No justice’

Amina told Amnesty that she knew one of the men involved in the attack, but she did not go to the police as she feared reprisal assaults.

“There is no access to justice at all so they’d rather keep silent,” Odongo told Al Jazeera.

“From that day I’ve never been myself, I feel like my life is in its end”

Rape victim

Esther Murungi, Kenya’s gender minister, told Al Jazeera that “even the police are in some instances the perpetrators”.

“In most cases they [victims] don’t even report … the perpetrators are actually in most cases close relatives and the women are caught in a catch-22 situation ‘do I go and report on my father who is the breadwinner, then what happens to the rest of the family?'”

“The biggest slum we have in Kenya is Kabira and it falls within the prime minister’s constituency … it is an issue of poverty.

“In Kabira, I was not even aware that they were being violated as they were going to the toilet,” Murungi said.

One 21-year-old rape victim from a Kenyan slum told Al Jazeera that she could not pursue justice against her attackers, because she did not have an identity card.

“From that day I’ve never been myself, I feel like my life is in its end. I see that man all the time … I see them all.”

‘Difficult to police’

Eric Kiraithe, a Kenyan police spokesman, told Al Jazeera that sexual violence is a problem in the slums, but that it was not correct to say police are standing by and doing nothing.

“We have set up gender desks in police stations. We are undertaking a programme where we educate people on their rights, so they know what to do if a case of sexual abuse arises,” he said.

“As the society gets more sensitisd they are coming out in larger numbers to report [this type of crime].

“This year alone … the gender desk which serves Kabira area has dealt with 62 cases [of sexual abuse] and a number of those are already in court.

“It can’t be seen as a problem of police not taking action – when you look at the nature of those settlements, they provide great difficulty for police to operate effectively.”

‘Worst form of violence’

Robin Masinde, the advocacy co-ordinator at Nairobi’s women’s hospital, said that village chiefs did not respond to complaints unless a “women comes in with chopped hands or raped by ten men”.

“Within the informal settlements, you’ll get the worst form of violence”, he said.

The Kenyan government does not keep official figures on sexual abuse, but many organisations believe that it is on the rise.

Amnesty interviewed 130 women in Kenyan slums, where 729 acres of land provide home to more than 3.4 million people.

Theresa Omondi, director of the gender violence recovery trust at the Nairobi women’s hospital, told Al Jazeera: “On a daily basis we get 30 cases in our centre … I believe the numbers are becoming overwhelming.”

The report Insecurity and Indignity: Women’s experiences in the slums of Nairobi, Kenyacriticises the government for failing to incorporate slums into urban plans or provide enough police to provide security.

It called on the Kenyan government to enforce landlords’ obligations to construct toilets and bathrooms in the slums and to provide assistance to structure owners who cannot afford the costs of building toilets and bathrooms.

The Kenyan gender minister said the government is “creating awarness” and “trying to make sure they have a toliet within their premises”. 

Some women currently use “flying toilets”- plastic bags full of waste thrown from the home, to avoid travelling to the public bathrooms.

These activities can lead to the spread of disease and other public health problems.

Amnesty International also called on the government in Nairobi to provide more security for slum residents. 

Source: Al Jazeera