By Sharon Atieno

At 23 years, Lavender Akinyi is a mother of a three-year old baby, a student and a volunteer at a local organization that works in Kibera to mentor adolescent girls.

After she finished high school, her parents thought it wise for her to look for employment. A task which landed her at her aunt’s place kilometers away from home. She got a job at a wines and spirits outlet where she was exposed to a lot of sexual harassment.

She became pregnant and due to pressure from her aunt and fear of her parents’ wrath, she was forced to move in with the man responsible for the pregnancy. Life became unbearable for her when the man started becoming violent.

At the seventh month of her pregnancy, the man beat her up so bad that it left her with a permanent scar on her left eyebrow. Seeking help from neighbours was out of question as they would often shrug their shoulders saying “those two are like that always fighting each other”.

Her relief came when she got word that her former high school would give her scholarship to further her studies. This led to her being united with her parents and the end of her supposed marriage.

 Akinyi’s case depicts the challenges that many girls and women living in informal settlements have to go through on a daily basis.

According to the United Nations, about 213 million people in Sub-saharan Africa live in informal settlements where they face poverty, insecurity, sexual violence, inadequate social services and poor sanitation among others. Women and girls especially those living with disability often bear the brunt of these challenges.

The 9th African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR) in Nairobi calls to attention the plight of women and girls in informal settlements. The theme of this year’s conference will be: Advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in informal settlements.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), unmet need for sexual and reproductive health services is heavily concentrated among the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa, with only 26% of women from the poorest households delivering their babies in a health facility, compared with 81% of women from the wealthiest households.

The conference’s convener Dr. Uwemedimo Esiet notes that though there are many global and regional policy initiatives geared towards improving the sexual health and rights of women and girls, there has been slow progress in translating these policies to action especially in Africa.

Observing that people in informal settlements have been invisible for too long, he says that the conference will be a platform to find a consensus for a framework to the way States can respond to the sexual health and rights of women and girls in informal areas.

The conference is being hosted by Africa Gender and Media Initiative (GEM) Trust alongside other organizations and will run officially from 12th to 14th February, 2020.