News / Africa

Program Teaches Poor Women, Girls in Nairobi how to Protect Themselves

Program - I'm Worth Defending - teaches girls and women how to defend themselves
Program - I'm Worth Defending - teaches girls and women how to defend themselves

Rape is a constant threat for girls and women living in the crime-ridden slums of Kenya's capital, Nairobi. It is estimated that one out of five women are raped in the slums, and there are few arrests of rapists. A U.S.-initiated and funded program is working hard to change all that. 

Charity Waithera has been to hell and back. During the country's post-election violence, she was brutally gang-raped near a section of Nairobi called Korogocho.

Some eight months after her ordeal, the 46-year-old mother of seven joined a group called "I'm Worth Defending." Her life has since been transformed.

"I have been taught to remove the rape experience from my heart - that is very important," she said. "I have been taught how to protect myself if I meet with gangsters or rapists. I have also been taught how to run away if I am in a compromising situation and which areas of the man I can hold if I am being attacked."

I'm Worth Defending is an international non-government organization based in Korogocho and operating in other slums in Kenya's capital.

The group teaches girls and women self-defense skills and provides counseling on rape.

"We bring to light that frailty is not the thing. It is about you as a person and the inner belief that you are worth defending, that your spirit tells you that you have a purpose and you have to defend that purpose," said Philip Otieno, the executive director of I'm Worth Defending.

He says that his group also focuses on rape prevention and life skills.

"We are not blind to teaching the boys who are potential rapists if they are not talked to. We have a boys' class that is pure lecture session where we give them the eight basic rules that we want them to adhere to. We are talking about respect for women as rule number one," he said.

In the self-defense classes, students are shown how to talk their way out of dangerous situations and, if cornered, what areas of the rapist's body to strike.

Student Veronica Njeri describes how she can use her body to fend off a rapist. "I have been shown how to break the knee of my attacker using my legs so that he cannot run after me. Using the side of my hand, I can hit my attacker continuously on the neck area and face just to confuse him. Using my elbow, I can hit my attacker in the stomach area if he is holding me from behind," she explained.

"After the class, they are optimistic," says defense instructor Maggie Mbatia. "The training empowers girls and women,  They are saying, 'Oh my God, I did not expect this from that class. Oh, it makes me feel like I am worth a lot more than what I think I am because I thought I am just that woman who can do nothing. If there is no man around to defend me, then I cannot defend myself. But after this class, I really feel powerful. I really feel that I have a purpose and I must fulfill it.'"

The Nairobi slum of Korogocho is among the poorest, where most people earn less than $1 a day and crime is rampant.

Girls and women are especially vulnerable to being raped in these parts of town.

It is easy for attackers to break into houses made out of mud and corrugated iron. Streets and alleyways are not lit at night. Women are stigmatized if they report rapes and can even be hurt or killed for doing so.

There are no reliable statistics as to the number of rapes in the capital or nation-wide. The Gender Violence Recovery Centre in Nairobi reports that they see an average of 230 new clients a month, most of who are sexual assault survivors.

Officials report that more than half of the victims live in slum areas.

I'm Worth Defending's Otieno says he wants girls and women to be equipped with the skills to defend themselves before the rapists can get to them.

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