Knowing My Rights in Kenya

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John Paul Makere (centre) with another worker from the Centre, David Mukunda and client, Jane Mulanda.
Centre workers, David Mukunda (left), John Paul Makere, and client, Jane Mulanda.

Women in Kenya are subject to discrimination and disadvantage in all areas of their lives. Levels of gender-based violence and culturally harmful practices are egregiously high, women experience inequality of opportunity and outcomes in relation to education, and women are at greater risk of poverty and landlessness. The Equal Rights Trust works with the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA - Kenya) helping to provide legal assistance to women through local organisations such as Kibera Justice Centre. In May 2014 we spoke with a client of the Centre, Jane Mulanda. 

I am a single mother with a daughter liv­ing in Kibera.1 Many single mothers come to live in Kibera because they have nowhere else to go; their own fathers will not allow them to live in the family home as unmar­ried women with a child and the fathers of their children do not take responsibility for the child and leave. Single mothers in Ken­ya face a difficult task. They work running small businesses because they cannot get jobs and also have to look after their chil­dren at the same time. They are not able to get out of the position where they are in constant financial difficulties because they don’t know their rights.

It is difficult for these mothers to access em­ployment because they do not have educa­tion. There are schools for adults but a single mother doesn’t have time to stay in school and learn. Women working as household help must now be paid, but women without education cannot get house help jobs any­more because they cannot help the children of the house with homework. Women are resorting to prostitution because they can’t do anything else, they can’t get another job. I know women who see men at their house. I also think that those who are married face many problems and suffering because of a lack of education.

In my view, men in Kenya see women as weak, so they take our property. Women don’t know their rights and are afraid to stand up for themselves because they are women and that is not the role of women in Kenya. There needs to be more awareness of women’s rights in Kenya. Women need to know what their rights so they can defend themselves.

So­ciety in Kenya also needs to change. Women have the right to inherit land now, so society should also not mind if a woman sells the land that she has inherited – if you give me something, then you cannot mind what I am doing with it. I don’t know how the men of Kenya feel. They also have daughters – how do they feel when their daughter is being battered by her husband every day? If a fa­ther gives his daughter land, then she can come and live in peace with her parents and raise their grandchildren in peace, rather than staying with a man who is battering her every day or having to run away to an area like Kibera where she knows no one and her prospects are very poor.

I found out about the legal advice services that Kibera Justice Centre provides through a friend. I was looking for help because the father of my daughter did not want to take responsibility for her. She was unable to go to school because of this. I went to the chief’s office to get help but this was difficult and did not resolve the problem. I then went to Kibera Justice Centre to seek help. They ex­plained my rights to me and the rights of my daughter. They then spoke to the father of my child and explained his responsibilities. He is now paying school fees for our child. The service has solved my problem and now I am able to sleep at night without thinking of my daughter’s school fees.

I now stay involved in the work Kibera Justice Centre is doing and tell all women about their rights and about where to find help. I hope that one day I’ll see all women standing on their own with nobody pressing them down. That day is coming, it must. If I was able to bring the father of my child on board, then surely all woman must be able to do that.

  • This testimony was originally featured in volume thirteen of the Equal Rights Review. Click here to read more and to download the Review. 
  • Click here to read the story of a worker of the Kibera Justice Centre. 
  • Click here to read more about the Equal Rights Trust project in Kenya. 
  • Click here to read more about FIDA - Kenya. 
  • 1. Kibera is a densely populated area of Nairobi that is one of the largest informal settlements in Africa and suffers from extreme poverty.

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