Esther Musavi fights for better access to water and safe sanitation and against violence against women

Story: Esther Musavi, Kenya

Some girls in Kenya's Kibera slum see no other option than to have sex in return for water, says Esther Musavi (38), who fights for better access to water and safe sanitation and fights against violence against girls and women.

Warning this article contains content on (sexual) violence

This story is part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. If you want to stay updated on more Simavi campaigns or news, subscribe to our newsletter. 

Esther Musavi

Huge pressure on girls

'The severe lack of water, safe toilets and showers in Kibera leads to a lot of violence against girls and young women.'

'There is huge pressure on girls to fetch water,' says 38-year-old Esther Musavi, who has lived in East Africa's largest slum her entire life. 'Returning home without water is not an option for a girl in Kibera. Her mother will be furious and send her out again to find water. After queuing for hours and walking very long distances, girls sometimes see no other option than to have sex in return for water.'

Sexually assaulted on the way to the water point

The activist says that due to the water shortage, girls often go out to fetch water at night. 'They hope to get to the front of the queue for water the next morning, before it runs out,' Esther says. 'But on the way to these water points, girls are regularly sexually assaulted or raped.'

The queues that girls and women often have to wait in for hours on end give the boys manning the water points an unhealthy sense of power. 'The boys ask the girls to have sex with them in return for water, for example if the girls do not have enough money. Girls can also come to the start of the queue in return for sex, so that they can get water before it runs out,' says the activist, who has interviewed dozens of girls in order to expose the sex for water problem.

Fetching water is also incredibly hard for the girls, as they often have to carry two or even four 20-litre jerry cans home. 'Boys will regularly offer to help a girl carry one of her heavy 20-litre jerry cans home,' Esther continues. 'But once they arrive at the girl's home, the boy will often force his way in or even rape the girl in her own home.'

'Girls are therefore forced to use paid public toilets and showers where they have no privacy' The activist explains that the lack of safe toilets and showers is another major problem that causes a lot of violence.

Lack of safe toilets and showers is another major problem

Esther explains that the lack of safe toilets and showers is another major problem that causes a lot of violence. The corrugated iron houses in the Kibera slum rarely have their own toilet and shower. 'Girls are therefore forced to use paid public toilets and showers where they have no privacy and are regularly sexually harassed by the boys collecting money for the toilets and showers,' she says.

'When a girl changes her sanitary towel and the plastic peels away, the toilet boy and his friends often direct sexual remarks at her. They often spy on the girls through the holes in the shower cubicle walls while they are showering. Boys also regularly follow girls home, force themselves on them and rape them,' says Esther.

Teaching the community about girls' rights

'Many girls do not dare to say anything about sexual harassment because it means they will be forbidden from using the toilets and showers, which are very scarce in Kibera. Cases of sexual assault and rape are often brushed under the carpet when parents try to take them to the local chief or police,' says the activist.

Esther now teaches her community about girls' rights and the harm that these practices cause. 'We teach girls to say no to 'sex for water'. At the same time, there needs to be better access to water – otherwise, girls will continue to have a hard time saying 'no'.' Esther is also pushing for more, safer toilets and showers in Kibera. 'Sex in return for water is a human rights violation. Girls and women should have free access to basic needs like water.'

Esther Musavi Activist for WASH and against voilence against women
'Sex in return for water is a human rights violation. Girls and women should have free access to basic needs like water.'

Better access to water

'I am proud that, thanks to our research, the local government is finally taking the sex for water problem seriously. I believe that if girls and women get better access to water, we can stop these sex for water practices. If there are no more queues for a water point, girls can simply say 'no' to sex and go to a different water point.'

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Gettings the basics right for women and girls.

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