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Reducing the risk of violence for women and girls in Kenya’s slums

Over half the world’s population now lives in cities and this urbanisation has meant an increased risk of violence for women and girls.

Fear is an everyday reality for many as they make their way to school, work or public facilities. Research suggests that poor public transport services, a lack of nearby toilets and areas with no street lighting particularly leave women and girls in cities vulnerable to rape and sexual harassment.

Speaking to The Guardian, a women’s rights programme manager at ActionAid, which has just published a report on the safety of women in key cities, said “violence against women is obviously a global problem and as the majority of people now live in cities, public services can and must be part of the solution for making their lives safer.”

Some international efforts have already begun to try to address the problem. For example, two years ago, the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, and other UN bodies launched a ‘Safe and Friendly Cities for All’ initiative. This five-year programme is initially taking place in eight cities, including Nairobi in Kenya. Its aim is to involve more women and young people in local decisions about public infrastructure and services and to back innovative solutions which improve safety.

Such solutions don’t always come in the shape of public or government initiatives. In Narirobi, where four-fifths of the city’s residents live in slums, women and girls often face the threat of violence when they walk to toilets, particularly since some communal pit latrines are locked at night. Rather than leaving the safety of their shanty homes, many therefore resort to using a plastic bag. These are known as “flying toilets” when they get discarded into alleyways.

Now a Kenya-based social enterprise, called Sanergy, provides three-feet by five-feet ‘Fresh Life’ toilets to budding entrepreneurs in Nairobi’s slums. Young business people buy a toilet (often with a micro-credit loan) and collect waste from their toilet each day. This is taken to a processing facility where it is turned into organic fertiliser. For this service and ensuring their public toilets are clean and functional with soap and water, they charge adult users (mostly women) around four US cents and children half that price.

There are now over 100 ‘Fresh Life’ toilets in the Mukuru network of Nairobi’s slums. Sanergy’s team are proud of helping to create a healthier and safer environment. Speaking to The Guardian in November last year, a spokesperson said that the further children and women had to walk to access clean and safe sanitation, the greater the security risk, which has a “huge psychological” effect. And if the business can also create job opportunities at the same time as improving health and security, all the better.