Women in Kibera face extreme gender inequality. Maureen Koli, a 27 years old, has lived in Kibera her entire life and is currently getting her education in electronic media studies at Daystar University with the help of a sponsor. Maureen Koli lost her father at the age of 17 and after his death, as the oldest daughter she was expected to “step up.” Now Koli studies all night and works during the day to support her family. Koli says, living in Kibera, “You are forced to mature at a very young age. Growing up as a girl in the slums [of Africa] is twice as hard.” Teen mothers are very common in Kibera, “a few of my friends gave birth at 15,” Koli says. Teenagers in Kibera get pregnant for a variety of reasons but the most common reason is survival. Some women will become prostitutes for 50 shillings, Koli mentions. They would use this money to buy food and water, without much left for period products or condoms. Koli says that in the slums of Africa a woman’s menstruation period is nothing but a hassle. For some, it is easier to get pregnant. Unfortunately, when a girl gets pregnant in the slums, she is often kicked out of the house. Koli talks about teenage mothers moving in with their child’s father; “if he is a good person, he will take you in, and taking you in is like getting married.”
Living in the slums of Africa, it is not practical for a girl to get a washable sanitary napkin, because washing it alone would use up all of the family’s water for the day. For slum dwellers, disposable pads and tampons are too expensive. For these reasons, girls will typically stay home from school while on their period. On an average school day, 40% of students show up. According to Koli, women’s reproductive cycles are deemed as taboo topics in schools and throughout the slum. Education is just one example of the gender inequality in Kibera.
When the pandemic hit, the harsh realities of gender inequality were seen in Kibera. In Kibera, the world's fourth most populated slum there are 116 women COVID cases for every 100 men COVID cases. Studies show that women in slums are worse off than others in regards to employment, access to health facilities, secure housing, and education completion. COVID is expected to worsen these conditions and increase extreme poverty. While most women in the slum work,it tends to be low-paid, temporary, and exploitative jobs, which increases likelihood of them being part of the “working poor.” Many of these women are domestic workers who are unable to render services remotely and are losing income that they had used to feed their families. As the pandemic hit, schools closed with no access to the internet in most slums. Girls were hit the hardest in these conditions. Even in a situation where remote learning was possible, many girls had to increase their contribution to the family's domestic and care needs, which limited remote learning.
To avoid heightening social inequalities, policymakers must consider the gender profiles of slums as a first step towards the needs of women and girls. We need solidarity to and prioritize the most marginalized and vulnerable. Koli works for a nonprofit organization known as Spur Afrika that collaborates with Kenya and Australia to provide health, education, and life skills for the impoverished in Kibera. They also give away toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sanitary pads. Koli mentors women and girls every other week, providing them with sex education and knowledge of how to improve their lives. At the age of 27, Koli is determined to finish her education so when she finally has children, she can provide for them. She is working on creating the best life possible for herself in Kibera.
Girls and women in Kibera hold unlimited potential. So how do we find solutions for the gender inequality in Kibera? Thankfully, there are organizations and programs that are dedicated to helping better the lives of women and girls living in places such as Kibera.
The barriers in Kibera that face women are endless. Issues such as gender based violence and underrepresentation in decision making are pervasive. Women spend long hours collecting water, firewood, completing household chores, and are left with limited work options and opportunities to complete their education. USAID (United States Agency for International Development) contributes to helping Kibera reach their development goals. USAID works to promote women’s engagement in all aspects of Kenya’s goals to develop. The work of USAID aims to:
Create safe spaces for women and girls, give them spaces to live away from gender based violence
Increase women’s access to credit facilities and market opportunities
Increase the opportunity for women to participate in decision and policy-making at all levels.
Ensure women’s participation in peace-building, conflict prevention, and mitigation.
Narrow gender gaps in education, training, and employment.
For women in domestic abuse situations or involved in prostitution circles, Freely in Hope works to provide them with resources. 5% of girls who drop out of school in Kibera are due to early pregnancy. The problem is rooted in social and economical poverty, pushing the girls to desperate conditions so that they can provide basic needs for themselves and for their families. These girls in many situations have no-one to help them and they keep all these frustrations to themselves. There are projects in Kibera that further efforts to provide for these girls and women, and teach them how to take care of themselves and live their lives.
Azcona, Ginette, et al. “COVID-19 Exposes the Harsh Realities of Gender Inequality in Slums | UN-Habitat.” Unhabitat.org, 3 June 2020, unhabitat.org/covid-19-exposes-the-harsh-realities-of-gender-inequality-in-slums. Accessed 6 Nov. 2021.
Raglow, Annie Kate. “Gender Inequality in the Slums of Africa.” BORGEN, 1 June 2020, www.borgenmagazine.com/gender-inequality-in-the-slums-of-africa/. Accessed 6 Nov. 2021.
USAID. “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Kenya | Kenya | U.S. Agency for International Development.” Usaid.gov, 17 Nov. 2017, www.usaid.gov/kenya/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment-kenya.