Bridging the capacity gap for young women living in slums

By Sophia Khamis, Machakos

Sophia Khamis speaking at a recent workshop on Youth Radicalization, held in Embu.

Sophia Khamis speaking at a recent workshop on Youth Radicalization, held in Embu.

The number of young women living in informal settlements and serving in the informal sector to earn a living is rapidly increasing. This is as a result of an increase in the number of girls who have accessed education, but as a result of poverty do not make it to higher institutions of learning, which often extinguishes their opportunities for leading a good life. In the informal settlements, young women continue to live in fear of violence, rape, sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS.

I am a graduate from a tertiary institution, living in Mjini informal settlement in Machakos County, while growing up i was fortunate enough toattendsecondary school, i remember vividly that ihardly stepped out of my mother’s house at night to go to the toilet for fear of being sexually assaulted. As a young girl- now a young woman,  lifethen was not easy . This is just but a portion of some of the challenges that an ordinary girl living in the settlement has to go through.

It is often perceived by many that a young woman can only forge ahead in life by either depending on their spouses, family or networks to make a mark in society. However, with the little experience I have gathered overtime, through self education and self sacrifice. This would be the best starting point for any young woman whose dreams seem to be a pipe dream.

I love being a young woman, the opportunities i have had so far came through learning about my rights, and I would love to further this course through empowering fellow young women on their rights and existing opportunities that manifests through self teaching which builds capacity for self development and transforming societies.

The Affiliation Aspect

I happened to join Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a movement of the urban poor living in Kenya’s informal settlements, this was four years ago. This was through a Know your county platform that aimed to grow young women leaders that are able to be community defenders on matters devolution and accountability. The project employed innovative approaches to impart such information to teenage girls in Machakos County. Currently am greatly involved in the federation activities that involves; community mobilization, social advocacy, data collection for policy influence and infrastructure development for informal settlements. My role is mainly on the component of the youth programme. The programme has been established to fill a gap left by the absence of the youth, especially young women in transforming our settlements, through a diverse approach. Under the federation programme, youth from different informal settlements in Nairobi, Nakuru, Machakos and Kiambu aged between 18 and 28 are learning to explore the complex issues affecting their daily lives as well as many more in the slums through activities such as documentation, data collection and management, photography, community projects, sports and peer group discussions. Having learned the basics of documentation and photography with the use of basic mobile phone cameras, we have learnt to capture images to illustrate those issues affecting us in the slums, as well as events highlighting female leadership roles within the federation. Most youth programmes in Kenya, especially those concentrating in the informal settlements, tend to have an overwhelmingly male leadership, which largely discounted the special needs of young women.

Challenge to Access Education

However, the greatest challenge for girls is education. Several know they may not even make it to secondary school, either for lack of fees, or blatant refusal by parents to keep them in school. Why is it that women are not given a chance to make their dreams come true? Instead of us doing what we want, we are forced to do what we do not want to do, and if we refuse, we are stigmatized. The number of young women living in informal settlements and serving in the informal sector to earn a living is rapidly increasing. This is as a result of an increase in the number of girls who have accessed education, but as a result of poverty do not make it to higher institutions of learning, which often extinguishes their opportunities for leading a good life. In the informal settlements, young women continue to live in fear of violence, rape, sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS.

Federation's Lessons

Now, armed with the knowledge and information on diverse issues, I now have an open mind as well as communication and leadership skills, we are able to make momentous decisions on the basis of what they have learned. I would not be a strong young woman. I have become a mother, but with these sets of skills and the savings model taken seriously, I have been able to venture in a small business that allows me to earn an honest living. It’s my pleasure being a youth federation. Being a young mother from the slum was quite a challenge people from the community looked at me like an outcast. But since i joined the federation a few years back everything changed my perspective of life, it was different. A lot of opportunity raised. Other federation women have taught me a lot, “you can be from the slum but be modest, hardworking, knowledgeable and presentable. The learning exchanges i have the opportunity to attend have widened my scope to learn more. I have heard various training and now as i walk i feel like a university graduate. I pray and hope to also mentor other young mother's is one is allowed to give up life is full of opportunities