The streets of Nairobi paint a clear picture population struggling to survive in a harsh economic environment. Hawkers throng the streets at night, with resilience and determination to work beyond what is considered normal in a bid to make ends meet.
In recognition and support of these hardworking Kenyans, particularly the women, I hardly ever miss an opportunity to buy groceries on the streets. This also tends to be a convenient way to stock up at fair prices. Recently, as I was walking on the streets I decided to buy some groceries. After my shopping was packed, I reached out to my purse and as soon as I was about to hand money, there was commotion and the woman selling disappeared. City Council officers were on the streets harassing hawkers as usual. The hawkers ran with their wares to escape arrest. A few were unlucky and did not manage to escape.
I stopped to watch this particular woman who clung onto her sack which she had improvised into a mat, to sell her stock. The city council officer attempted to confiscate her stock, but she wouldn’t let go. As the struggle ensued, I wondered what would happen to her. Would she eventually let go, and lose her stock? Would she be arrested for the night, or would she bribe her way out? As I wondered what would be her fate, I thought about the woman who had lost an opportunity to sell to me, and the money that she would not make from other buyers that night. I thought of the women that would spend the night in cold cells, those that would lose the goods they had planned to sell. I thought about the children that would be sleeping in the cells with their mothers, as well as children that would be sleeping alone and terrified as their mothers spent the night locked up.
The struggles of the women on the streets is one that never ends. Life for these women is challenging enough without the harassment they face on a daily basis. They work in the cold night, when most people are making their way or already in the comfort of their homes. Some have children on their backs, or sometimes seated, walking or playing next to their mothers. Yet the government has decided to ignore the hardships that these women face and focus on the ‘menace’ that they are, just because by these women being on the streets ‘illegally’, the government does not make money from them.
The hypocrisy and irony of the whole situation is when government sets up a fund for women ‘in recognition of their marginalisation’, but at the same time mistreats a group of women that faces immense difficulties. It is ironical that the government encourages youth to be creative and entrepreneurial, yet when hawkers identify opportunity to sell to people going home from work on the streets that they pass, they are labelled illegal and a nuisance.
Which women and youth then does the government purport to support, if not those who sacrifice their comfort and those of their children to survive?