Hearing the voices of women - sanitation and peace building

By Nyasani Mbaka, Edith Kalela and Patrick Njoroge.

More than 30 women from around four settlements in Nairobi gathered at Muungano house on Wednesday 31st October 2012 to look at ways they have more empowerment, better protection against crime, better security of tenure, be ambassadors of peace as Kenya prepares to go into elections next year and better access to water and sanitation if sustainable development was to be achieved. The women were drawn from Kahawa West, Mathare, Kasarani, Korogocho and Huruma settlements.

It is rather obvious that lack of sanitation facilities in better or poorly planned areas has got a tremendous impact on the health and economic development of communities, unfortunately women and girls are the hardest hit by absence of toilets, latrines and bathrooms) within the areas they reside.

For instance in Mukuru Kwa Reuben, our visit to this historical settlement reveals that, not only do women, who are considered as the mirror of society, care for those who fall ill from prevalent sanitation-related diseases like cholera, typhoid and diarrhea, but they are also in greatest physical contact with human waste themselves.

Ushering the women from five different settlements across the city, Jane Weru, Executive Director of Akiba Mashinani Trust expressed that, “The Kenya -Jubilee campaign was as a result of the challenges being witnessed in the slums, talk of forced evictions, lack of clean and functional water and sanitation infrastructure, crime, poverty etc. In our research initiatives in the settlements, to be specific in Mukuru, we indeed realized that water and sanitation was the most talked about issue by women in the settlements, and is considered the biggest challenge. Currently women in Mukuru have taken the initiative to address the issue of sanitation in relation to women head-on. The women have committed to collect over 10,000 signatures to petition the government to take up some of the private lands inhabited by the poor and develop frameworks of building basic sanitation infrastructure to the benefit of the poor.”

In crowded urban settlements women go through the entire day without relieving themselves and also risk harassment or even rape when accessing toilet facilities in the cover of darkness. In urban areas, shame, embarrassment and the great desire for privacy force women to defecate in secluded areas where they risk assault or underneath their beds put plastic containers that act as emergency toilets. Needless to say, menstruation, pregnancy and postnatal bleeding add further complications and discomforts.

DSC00047 (FILEminimizer)

DSC00047 (FILEminimizer)

Voicing the predicaments of the Woman in the slums Muungano wa Wanavijiji’s member from Kahawa Soweto settlement, Anastasia Wairimu explains. “In Kahawa Soweto the issue of sanitation and its relation to women is a crisis in our settlements. The irresponsible means of disposing used sanitary towels and condoms has been in the rise. This is a health hazard to both kids and adults, some of us even dispose such human waste in flush toilets which end up blocking the minimal sewerage infrastructure in the settlements. We need to take responsibility as women in leading by example by creating awareness on advocating for clean environments as well as maintaining high sense of hygiene”, said Anastasia.

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DSC00211 (FILEminimizer)

While sharing her views, Emily Wangari a resident of Kosovo informal settlement in Mathare valley gave a scenario of the Kasuku woman. This refers to the use of plastic containers by women and children to answer to the call of nature. “The few public toilets we have in Mathare have been vandalized and are not functional, hence have turned into disposal sites. Very many of us were raised by the Kasuku model (the use of plastic containers to answer to call of nature) as far as human waste disposal is concerned, why? This is because a large section of the residents do not find this sustainable owing to the poverty levels in the settlement. Personally it does not make sense for me to spend Ksh 5 to go to answer to calls of nature in a public toilet, yet I cannot afford that kind of money for myself and that of my household.”

Mary Adhiambo a resident of Korogocho settlement blames s plot owners for leaving out the sanitation component, by never including toilets while putting up houses and for those who have toilets in the plots should be so often exhaust the human waste. “Plot owners are not doing justice to their tenants, they rarely take the initiative to drain filled up latrines. This then forces women and kids to risk their lives by using the latrines as they are ignoring on the looming omnipresent danger that there is. For those that cannot dare take the risk of accessing such poor facilities, they would sluice their waste in plastics bags or containers and openly run the waste in open drainage systems, without the utmost respect to fellow neighbors, thus bringing about conflict in the settlements.” Said Mary.

Mama Winnie a resident of Kosovo views this differently, she explains, “We may be residing in urban poor settlements that lacks basic infrastructure but that does not mean we cannot take control of the ecosystem we live in, in the slums. Women are known to change the course of events in the settlements, women should therefore be responsible and ensure proper disposal of human waste and sanitary towels and to the best of their circumstances observe hygiene standards at all times, we should not throw caution to the wind as far as our health and dignity is concerned.

Parents in well planned infrastructure in middle class communities will oftentimes not allow their girl child to attend schools or institutions that do not offer basic sanitation facilities, particularly during menstruation. Pose and ask yourself, how then would be the scenario in urban poor settlement? If this would happen in urban poor settlements it’s rather obvious that there will be an ever-growing disparity between female and male primary school graduation rates. Currently one in four girls worldwide do not complete primary school, compared to one in seven boys.

This humiliating daily routine dominates women’s lives, not only places them at risk of health problems like urinary infections, chronic constipation and psychological stress, but also hinders their full participation in the social and economic lives of their communities.

According to a report by UN-Habitat analysis, it is estimated that worldwide, 190 million school days could be gained if the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation were met. The sanitation target is dangerously off-track; at the current rate of progress, the 2015 target will be missed by 700 million people. Many of these are young girls, for whom access to sanitation facilities on school grounds means the difference between getting an education or not; being able to read or not; and having a chance to escape from poverty or not.

The women in attendance vowed to set up discussion forums in the settlement to create awareness on sanitation and how it directly affects the woman. They also agreed to engage their local leaderships on this matter and how best they mobilize resources to improve sanitation standards in the settlements. The jubilee team from Muungano wa Wanavijiji, pledged its support to the woman as they plan to re -write sanitation rules in slums.

The Role of Women in Peace Building

On the 31st day of October in the year 2000. The United Nations Security Council addressed the

disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women, recognizing the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to peace-building. The first resolution on women, peace and security, The Security Council Resolution was unanimously adopted, stressing the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.

In a presentation made to the women by Joseph Muturi, of Muungano wa Wanavijiji and a member of the Jubilee team made a presentation dubbed, Kenya in Crisis, took the women back down memory lane pin pointing the consequences of a disputed presidential elections in 2007/2008, where more than 1,300 lost their lives. A scenario drawn by the women in attendance, reiterated that during the violence women were split and the unity cord was shaken. Some of us cooked for our youths, so that they would have the energy to fight ethnic battles, said one lady.

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DSC00207 (FILEminimizer)

Women are largely excluded from high level peace processes aimed at ending conflict, and their concerns are almost always entirely neglected.Muturi proposed that it is important to establish peace building processes within the confines of our settlements and the objectives of the Jubilee Campaigns, which would include all women affected by a conflict to address their issues through wider consultation. The women offered their souls to be instruments of peace in the settlements and the entire nation and never again will they watch their blood balkanize this country along tribal lines. Similar forums to those of sanitation, on peace will be spearheaded by women in the settlements to advocate for peace.