Basic Facts – Kenya

Everything you need to know about health, romance, women’s rights and safety in Kenya.


Health

Feminine Hygienic Products

Pads are readily available at any market. In fact, they are becoming fairly popular. Tampons nearly impossible to find.

Birth Control

Birth control is readily available everywhere. Condoms, pills, injections…you name it. In the Kakamega dispensary, in the middle of the rainforest, a friend has told me that they probably have enough birth control pills in their supply room for all the women in Kenya.

Gynecologists

I have not been to visit a gynecologist here; however, they are readily available at regional hospitals. Finding them in local dispensaries is nearly impossible, but every major town should have access to a gynecologist. You’ll find that visiting any doctor in Kenya is considerably different from home. Medical centers are smaller, and much less well-equipped. If you have to seek medical treatment, it is best to go to the hospitals in the major cities in your area like Nairobi, Kisumu, or Mombasa.


Romance

Dating Locals

Yikes. With some estimated HIV/AIDS rates for Kenya being as high as 30%, I would highly discourage any casual dating when you are here. Be aware also that being a Western women might mean that men have some preconceived notions about…ahem…how far you will go. This might cause some disingenuous interactions, for men who are only looking to get some with someone a) they think will go all the way, and b) they know probably is not infected. HIV/AIDS has changed the way young Kenyans interact with each other, so as a non-Kenyan woman you might get some unwanted attention from men. As an American woman, you are very enticing to men here—not only because you are beautiful, but because of the wealthy country you come from. In terms of dating, Kenya is fairly conservative. Smiling at a male here means something entirely different than in the US or another developed country. These are all things to be aware of.

Types of Men

You’ll find that Kenyan men are typically masculine and very aggressive. Thus far, these are the majority of men that I’ve come in contact with. However, there are very respectable men in this country—you won’t find them just walking down the street, though. Western women here attract a lot of attention. Don’t be surprised if you get a few marriage proposals. I usually just tell them my father wants 30 cows, and then they leave me alone.

LGBTQ-friendly?

No, although this is an emerging issue in the Kenyan sociopolitical landscape. The majority of Kenya is incredibly Christian, and quite disapproving of homosexual activity.


Women's Rights

Women’s Rights

Gender equality is an emerging fight here in Kenya. Men typically see women as less capable, and less intelligent. I often hear comments about women not being able to “think as big as men.” Men believe a woman’s job is in the home, especially after she gets married. She is to cook and clean—a man doing these things is unheard of. All of these notions apply mostly to men’s perception of Kenyan women. Most men are fine with white or Western women who do not fit these roles. Also, as more and more girls have access to education, the role of women is changing in Kenya. Women attend college, and find jobs in cities, and are able to provide for themselves.

Local Women

While my upbringing has taught me that education and career come first, the local women here believe that finding a husband is quite important. When a woman becomes a wife, her duty is often to tend to the children and her home. My initial perception of Kenyan women was that they are very demure. In the primary school where I teach, the girls are so soft-spoken, it makes me sad. Also, something that I found strange—when a woman is pregnant, people do not mention it. They think it is bad luck to talk about a baby before it is born.

Women-Specific Environments

Not really. In most places, men and women can be together. Unless it is a woman’s shelter, or something like that.

Perception of American Women

Most everyone can tell I am American, or at least from a Western country. The perception of American Women here is that they are wealthy. Local men are very interested in me, because they are interested in America. America is seen as a kind of utopia, and some American women can be a ticket there. I would be very aware of the advances of local men. Local women are kind, although both men and women can be quite harsh—they think I come from a very privileged lifestyle (and I do, all American women are privileged), and so sometimes the resentment comes through. That being said, many locals are very excited to hear that I am from America (Obama is half Kenyan, after all) and they ask many questions about where I am from.


Safety

Transportation

Don’t hop on a pikipiki (motorbike) unless you know he’s reliable. Other than that, forms of transportation in Kenya are pretty safe. Take recommendations for taxis, always, to be on the safe side and also to avoid being overcharged. Matatus (vans) are find, albeit very crowded. Buses are safe, also. When you travel, keep all your valuables very close and in your sight. I left my phone in my backpack pocket for ten minutes, and someone snatched it.

Shady Areas for Women

Anywhere after dark. I REPEAT anywhere after dark! Do not walk by yourself in less populated areas if you can avoid it. Large cities like Nairobi or Mombasa are often more dangerous, and are fairly crime-ridden. The further you go out in the country, the safer it becomes. I have never felt unsafe in Kakamega, which is a fairly small town.

Clothing

Most of Kenya is fairly conservative. With the exception of larger cities, you will rarely find women in pants. Never in shorts. Skirts always hit the knee or below. Don’t show cleavage. I find that covering your shoulders is also a good idea. Again, this is not the case for larger cities like Nairobi or Mombasa, which are quite modern.

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