Crisis Spotlight





Water in Crisis - Women in Kenya

Alexandra Barton, Guest Writer

Kenya is overwhelmed with problems of water scarcity and sanitation. In the country, only nineteen percent of urban residents have access to proper sanitation. The population most affected by this is women. Women in Kenya are at a paradox; they are responsible for providing water for their families but are less likely to have safe access to it than men. These women risk their health and well-being to collect contaminated water.

Kenya experiences cycles of long droughts, and these dry spells have increased over time. According to the International Livestock Research Institute, rainfall in Kenya has significantly decreased in the past five years as desertification stretches over the country's semi-arid landscape. More areas are unable to produce vegetation or support livestock. This has been pushing rural families in to cities, where an estimated fifty percent of Kenya's population will be by 2050. Women, who were able to cultivate land and perhaps earn a small income, now live in urban slums where they are incapable of the scarce work that is provided. Women are hurt financially from the country's soil erosion and desertification.

Women in Kenya are regularly confronted with violence during their chores, like gathering water, or when relieving themselves in public. In the slums of Nairobi, gender-related violence is a major problem, and this scares women away from public water sources. Slums may have pit latrines, a hole in the ground to collect waste, for multiple households to use. The latrines are a distance from the women's one-room houses. While walking to use these, especially at night, women are abused. A woman may avoid using the latrines by defecating in a plastic bag and throwing it outside her house. This unsanitary practice was created out of fear.

Women encounter more than just violence when it comes to water. Kenyan women are at high risks of contracting waterborne diseases. Cholera is frequent in impoverished areas of Kenya. Kenyan hospitals do not retain enough clean water to provide patients with sanitary services, and this has risked the weak health of these patients with infections and diseases in contaminated water. Pregnant women have contracted typhoid fever and cholera in hospitals, passing along infections to their babies. Diarrheal diseases, like rotavirus, are one of the highest causes of death in infants, and can be spread along through unsanitary mothers.

Girls frequently vacate their schooling before receiving an adequate education because of difficulties with sanitation. Many schools in Kenya lack public toilets or clean water for hygiene. A girl will likely forsake her learning to stay home and help with household duties. Women have an eighty percent literacy rate, but this does not reflect the amount of girls who do not continue to a second or third level of school. In these levels, valuable knowledge is taught to allow girls access to better prospects and a higher quality of life.

Women in Kenya worry about water's power to control their lives: they fear frequent droughts and an increasing lack of water access, violence as they go to use a public water source, diseases from water and the health of their families, and the lack of proper sanitation that hinders their personal opportunities.

The Water Project has supplied Kenyan women with personal access to clean water through new wells. The Water Project recently built a new well for the Bishop Sulumeti Girls Secondary School, which now serves 650 girls. These girls have the ability to attend school without the burden of poor sanitation, as they prepare themselves for a better future.