Monday, December 27, 2010

Women in Kenyan slum use flying toilet to avoid rape

In the slums of Nairobi, Kenya the constant threat of rape and sexual violence have led some women to avoid using communal toilets. Instead, they are forced to use the very unsanitary practice of using flying toilets. They are called "flying toilets" because the bags full of excrement are often flung out of windows exposing the neighborhood to the contents within.

From Women News Network, we hear the story of one victim and details from Amnesty International report on the subject.

When darkness descends in the ubiquitous slums and ‘informal settlements’ surrounding Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, women who visit and use communal toilets unwittingly become sitting ducks.

The dangers are high, for women living in the slums, that they may become targets of youth gangs and individual male rapists.

“I had heard that it was unsafe to visit the (community) toilet alone,” said forty-two year old, Rebecca Nduku, a single mother of three, when she challenged her friend’s ‘I-told-you-so’ warning. Acting against advice, Rebecca suffered irrevocably for throwing caution to the wind.

“I reasoned that since it was only 7:30 p.m., and there were many people walking around, it would be safe to visit the toilet, which was located only about 100 meters away,” explained Nduku. “The moment I unlocked the toilet’s wooden door to walk back home I was dragged to an abandoned house where I was abused, in turns, by five men until I blacked out.”

The July 2010 report, “Risking Rape to Reach a Toilet – Women’s Experiences in the Slums of Nairobi, Kenya,” by human rights organization, Amnesty International UK, offers a searing and detailed account on the lives of 130 Nairobi women who live in constant fear in the four largest slums surrounding the city.

In failing to include informal settlements and slums within mainstream urban planning, the City of Nairobi and the Ministry of Public Health has been faltering. In spite of social services and specific campaigns addressing safety challenges for women, successful programs remain a ‘mirage.’

“The continued exclusion of slums and informal settlements from the city’s planning processes, in particular the non-enforcement of existing sanitation standards, results in stark disparities in access to sanitation facilities between slums and informal settlement areas and other residential areas,” said Amnesty International after assessments were made on the continuing challenges and problems with sanitation and safety for women.

“Many women have suffered rape and other forms of violence as a result of attempting to walk to a toilet or latrine some distance from their home,” outlines the Amnesty report. “To avoid these dangers, women sometimes wash or use latrines in groups or ask male family members to accompany them at night. However, this does not alter the fact that facilities are inadequate and inaccessible.”

In facing ongoing problems of violence against women, many women in the informal settlements and slums have improvised their own solutions toward safety. It involves avoiding community toilets completely.

The theory is simple. “Flying toilets,” bags that are used instead of bathroom facilities, are part of the answer to violence. But the often thin plastic bags come with many complications. They are extremely unsanitary. Once the bags are loaded with excrement, they are flung through windows eventually breaking open as they expose surrounding areas to numerous pathogens.

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