A Case Study by Damaris Karimi, 15 years

Presented at the African Women’s Caucus, during the 54th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
My names are Damaris Karimi Gichuru. I live in Mukuru slums. In our family we are four in number; that is my single mother and my two brothers. My mum hustles for a living; she is an untrained Primary teacher. My younger brother is in Mukuru primary School.
We live in a hostile slum called Mukuru Kayaba in Nairobi, Kenya. Actually life in the slums has never been a bed of roses. Challenges at home are like the ever flowing Victorian falls of river Zambezi ranging from poor sanitation. For instance the flying toilets, poor drainage systems and the ever smelling garbage near the houses.
Also slum life is characterized by insufficient social facilities, due to high population which has yielded to poor medical care. There is also tendency of some children not going to school due to lack of education centers, some of the children do not go to school due to illiteracy of their parents and guardians.
The low level of living in the Slum is highly contributed by low incomes of the people. The low income has led to prostitution by young innocent girls like me, child labor which has led to young boys and girls dropping out of school since as the white man said, “One cannot serve two masters at a time”. Actually the low income has led to parents not being in a position of taking their children to school hence the children have no alternative rather than to engage in drug abuse and theft.
Role of GCN in empowering girls
Girl Child Network (GCN) is a network of over 312 organizations, key Government ministries, departments and individuals working to improve the status of children in Kenya with special emphasis on the education of girl child.
I personally came to know GCN in the year 2006 when they came for their usual distribution of sanitary towels in our school under their program on the Sanitary Towel Campaign. The campaign has played a great role in my life and fellow girls at least it gave us an opportunity to sit down in class without worry of soiling our uniforms and skipping classes. GCN has been a mentor to many girls through their advices and continued support. At least for once in many years after the talk by GCN addressing the girls there was no report of pregnancies among girls, since they made us know our worth us girls. Bravo! GCN for the good work you are doing to girls and for enabling me to be who I am and where I am today. God bless you.
My experiences in Mukuru Kayaba have been tough.  First is the fact that I had to learn in un-facilitated Primary School and walking for long distances from School to home. The Primary School is located in the middle of the slums. Many at times we would come to School and find human refuse thrown inside the School compound, making learning difficult. At times I could ponder and ask myself, why me? Why was I not born in a well off family? If I was, at least I could have afforded to go to a prestigious School where the environment is clean and attractive, where the children play without a care of the world, without stress and frustrations.
In Mukuru Kayaba rape is a common feature! Sometimes back, my best friend and I were comfortably strolling from the shop at around 6:00p.m when we saw two young men following us. I sensed something wrong was going to happen. Suddenly the young men got hold of us. I was able to defend myself and escaped. Unfortunately my friend did not have the same opportunity; she was raped and later became pregnant. This is the life in Mukuru Kayaba where young girls like myself cannot get out of the house at 6:00 p.m.
Another challenge we girls face is discrimination. Most parents particularly fathers believe that girls are for marriage and therefore little effort if any is put in to her education. This has made the girls feel useless and left them vulnerable to being enticed to early marriages as they are given empty promises of a good life.
I would also like to share about our housing in Mukuru Kayaba. Our homes are worse than cow sheds. Our house is usually a single room. It can only accommodate a stool, a stove together with small kitchen equipments. This forces most parents to the children of different sex in one bed. Many at times this has resulted to incest.
My Recommendations to ALL the Duty Bearers
My desire is to see first and foremost that the community is properly educated on environmental conservation because through environmental conservation people will be peaceful and healthy.
The other issue that should be dealt with is rape. As much as authorities will be on watch to punish the rapists, mine is to urge Kenyans to ask themselves after doing the action of defiling a girl what do you gain? What exactly do you think you have achieved? After getting the answer I believe we will not only have dealt with the issue, but people will realize that some of these things can be solved through thinking and common sense!
Thirdly on housing the government should intervene and ensure proper housing is spread to all slum areas. This will deal with issues of incest and also enable the girls to concentrate on their School work at home.
Education is the key to many doors in life. It’s better to give a child education than money or wealth. Give us girls education and equal opportunities just like the boys. This will be an assurance for of a bright future and a great generation ahead.


Damaris Karimi at the UN-CSW in New York

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