Leaving No One Behind and Women's Vulnerability

Leonida Odongo
Posted January 18, 2017

Leaving No One behind featured heavily in the just concluded High Level Meeting on Global Partnership for Effective Development, held in Nairobi in December 2016.

Examining leaving no one behind in the context of women living in Kenya’s informal settlements calls attention on the need to interrogate whether this will be a reality or business as usual. Informal settlement is home to thousands of families who due to economic reasons are unable to afford good housing, depend on informal trade including roadside selling of food, vegetables, work in quarries to earn an income. The bulk of those surviving on the margins of society, more so in Kenya are women.

Leaving no one behind entails ensuring each and every person from every walk of life becomes part of the development agenda. It’s a process of deliberate inclusivity, participation, giving voice and transformation. Questions that suffice are how do we talk about leaving no one behind when the systems in place for making decisions are the same systems that impose decisions on grassroots people without giving them a chance to participate, how can women in informal settlements not be left behind when their very existence is criminalised and they get recognized only during electioneering years their population is in itself a source of votes to parliament. Additionally, women are the entertainers during political rallies; they are given a paltry Kshs 50, which cannot buy a packet of milk and a loaf of bread for the “singer “ and her family.

How do we discuss leaving no one behind when the very structures that people in informal settlements call homes are subjected to demolitions without warning, not caring whether women and their children sleep in the cold or have no food to each or do not go to school. And where budgetary allocations are assigned but none goes to the transformation of the lives of marginalized people. Furthermore the very systems sanction forced evictions and sometimes if the victims are lucky pays compensation which when quantified cannot be equated to loss of ancestral land, the spiritual connection with ancestors and broken lineage to current and future generation of children born within communities.

The same case applies for widowed women who due to patriarchy are unable to access their land rights. Despite having Constitutions and policies that outlaw discrimination, in reality women face hurdles when they demand and defend their property rights. Within communities such women are deemed troublemakers that warrant silencing by expulsion back to their ancestral homes. What of the women members of Indigenous Peoples communities who, some of whom are unable to make decisions due to patriarchal system that stifles female voices.

Economically, women earn less and there are instances when simply getting pregnant becomes a crime and can earn you a job loss. For women on the margins such as those washing clothes for a living, you can do the entire work and in the long run are told, “ they are not clean enough” hence an entire day lost, without any form of monetary compensation.

How do can forums on leaving no one behind when right to health is a human right enshrined within constitutions but in informal settlements sewerage spew from unattended sewer lines and garbage heaps are a daily feature, women cannot access healthcare because they have no money to pay, where women fear going to the toilet late at night because of fear of insecurity and being a victim of rape. Where scavenging from the garbage is considered “ normal” as families eke out a living in the most precarious forms including competing for food from the dumpsites alongside wild pigs.

How is leaving no one behind discussed in a context where governments continue to sign trade agreements that are bound to negatively impact on the most marginalized, by pushing marginalized groups deeper into poverty, by depriving them of land resources to pave way for plantations in case of agricultural products, displacing entire communities to give room to natural resource exploration and extraction.

Where elderly women cannot access healthcare services because there are no people to provide care and support for them or they have been abandoned by their grown up children who are trying to make ends meet in the city and can barely survive on what they earn from the various industrial areas scattered within cities and towns.

There is need for a critical re-examination of leaving no one behind, the first step ought to be putting in place systems that really allow for those left behind to be able to have transformative change to dignity within their communities, where they are assured of security and access to basic necessities of life. Where there is inclusivity and voices of those most marginalized are given attention and their issues addressed. Only then will it be appropriate to talk about Leaving No One Behind.

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Jill Langhus
Jan 19, 2017
Jan 19, 2017

Hi Leonida, Thanks for sharing your important story about what's going on in Kenya. This doesn't sound good in any way shape or form. In fact, it got me riled up because it's such a gross case of neglect of human rights. Are any organizations addressing the double standards there and laws not being upheld? You mentioned the first step putting in place systems that really help those left behind, but where would be the place to start to implement this? Awareness on social media? Contacting officials?

Leonida Odongo
Jan 19, 2017
Jan 19, 2017

Dear jlanghus,

Thank you for  reacting to my article.To answer your questions organizations  do exist but we are yet to achieve the maximum.I'm thinking building a very strong movement , capable of analysis of issues , speaking with one voice  and organising in all spaces.What makes this injustices thrive is single issue   analysis of social injustices .

We need a system where the community is so organized that when they say no , a politician has to leave office.Its so sad that  grassroots people are used as bridges to get to elective posts and then left  on their own for the next five years.Maybe you can also share your input on what could work better for  not only Kenyans but Africa as well.