The price Kenyan girls pay

Women and girls in Kenya’s slums often queue for hours to collect water. No sexual harassment or sex in exchange for water. Activist Nancy Barassa is fighting this situation.

Andrea Dykstra

Sexual harassment is a daily occurrence for 21-year-old Nancy Barasa when she goes to fetch water in the Kibera slum. “There are often men hanging out at the water point. They stare at me and offer to hold my jock up but they have other intentions. If you refuse, they will get angry and start to intimidate you,” says the young woman with braided hair. They also sometimes hit the girls on the buttocks when lifting a heavy 20 liter water bottle. ”

Not only in the dry and remote areas of Kenya is increasing water scarcity due to changing weather patterns. Also in the informal slums of the capital, Nairobi, there is often a shortage of water available for the tens of thousands of people who live there within a few square kilometers.

Abuse of dominant position

Since the government has almost no water points, this gap is closed by private providers who sell water through hundreds of water points. However, these are run by men and boys who regularly abuse their positions of power, according to a study published last year by the Kenya Social Network for Water and Sanitation (KEWASNET).

“Boys, for example, only open the tap to girls who are known or have previously provided sexual services to them,” says Parasa, who was born and raised in East Africa’s largest slum. As a result, you sometimes stand in line all day and still have water in the evening. And the next day it’s sometimes the same song. You’ll also eventually start thinking about becoming ‘friends’ with this water boy and giving him special favors.”

According to Barasa, going home without water is not an option. “Your mother immediately sends you outside to look for water elsewhere, even if it is evening. This makes us more vulnerable. Girls fall into extreme behavior such as having sex for water.”

AFP photo

water or food

Private Water Points charge between 5 and 50 Kenyan shillings (0.05 – 0.41 euro cent) per 20 liter package, depending on rarity. This may sound like a little, but it’s a lot when you consider that not many people in Kibera earn more than 80 cents a day. “People regularly have to choose to buy food or water because they don’t have enough for both,” Barasa says.

The activist never had sex in exchange for water, but it almost got worse when she was 10. “I went to fetch water and a man of about forty was hanging around the water point. He wanted to help me with heavy water bottles, gave me sweets and suggested I go with him to his house.” Fortunately, educated at school about the dangers on the street, she ran home and refused to accept advances. However, this ends differently for many women and girls.

“I know many friends who have had sex for water,” Barasa says. “One got pregnant, had to drop out of school and is now a single mother without a job.”

After graduating from high school, Barra decided to commit herself to changing this situation. For example, it is now lobbying water sellers with other activists to get women to direct water points, which has now been achieved in Five Points. “As a result, the girls no longer have to worry about being harassed by the seller.”

Violation of human rights

Parsa also urged the government and through social media to make “sex for water” a criminal offense. Girls and women should have free access to basic needs such as water. And water is very important for girls. They need it for bathing and cooking, but also, for example, to be able to take a bath during menstruation. Sex for water is a violation of human rights in this regard.”

The activist also teaches other girls about the dangers of having water sex. “You can get diseases like HIV from it,” says Parasa, who is proud to have trained more than 2,000 girls. Previously, no one dared to talk about this topic. But thanks to this kind of training, the topic is no longer a taboo.”

How do different countries deal with drought, and what tensions does this lead to? This story is part of our production theme about drinking water around the world. Read more stories via this link, or hover your mouse across the map below.

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