All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Get involved and add your voice now!
Feminine Hygienic Products
Nadine says: Pads are readily available at any market. In fact, they are becoming fairly popular. Tampons nearly impossible to find.
Nadine says: 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.
Nadine says: 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.
Nadine says: 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
Nadine says: 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.
Nadine says: 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.
Nadine says: 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.
Tips for Women Travelers in Kenya
Nadine says: 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.
Nadine says: 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
Nadine says: 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.
Nadine says: 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
Nadine says: 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.
Nadine says: 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.
Tips for Women Travelers in Kenya
Like so many people in the world, I get caught up with stereotypes and misconceptions of people from other cultures. My decision to volunteer in Kenya definitely helped change my mind about Kenyan culture. I went there with my eyes wide shut and with expectations I should not have had.
Each day, my perspective shifted a little more, and after volunteering abroad for three months, I was in awe of the experiences I’d had and the lifelong friends I’d made. Here are some of the things I wish I’d known before my Kenya travel experience:
1. It’s not as strict as people say
The main thing that worried me before my trip to Kenya was that people would judge me for the way I looked. I had heard that Kenya was a conservative place and that I had to dress accordingly.
Having been told by certain members of my own family that I mistake my face for a pin cushion, I was sure that people would look down on me because of my piercings and tattoos, especially because Kenya is a religious country.
To my surprise, only about three people lectured me about my piercings and tattoos. In fact, I mostly received compliments! As for the dress code, I had raided my mum’s closet for long dresses, only to see girls wearing mini everything at Kenyan clubs.
So ladies, my advice to you is that if you’re going to be staying in a town and not a rural area, you can bring these along.
2. It’s not always hot
Before I left, I thought, “Oh it’s Africa, I’m going to catch a tan and be baking in the sun all day!” It turns out that that’s not true. Kenya is definitely NOT hot all the time.
In many parts of Kenya, it is hot, but in other parts, it rains every day! At night, I literally had to sleep in a hoodie and socks, as did my Kenyan roommates. My advice is to research the town you’re going to be staying in and remember to bring your rain boots. I had to buy a pair when I was out there because my shoes got ruined.
3. People are not sad all of the time
The media make it seem like Africa as a whole is depressing, and that the people are always sad. Not true. Anywhere I travel in the world, I always come back to this same point. The Brits are the most miserable people in the world so who are we to judge other people’s happiness? The majority of Kenyans, or at least the ones I had the pleasure of meeting, are great. They are easy going with warm hearts and that’s something to aspire to.
4. Everyone is not broke
Don’t get me wrong, there are many people who live below the poverty line in Kenya but there are also many people who live below the poverty line in the UK as well. It’s ridiculous to think that because we live in the West that we live better lives than people in Africa.
5. Everyone is not uneducated
This was the biggest shock of all to me. I didn’t think everyone was uneducated, but I didn’t know how much smarter the educated people in Kenya would be. The educated Kenyans I met used words that I hadn’t even heard before. Although English was not their first language, their English vocabulary was top notch. Even I, a university graduate who was born and bred in the UK, had a hard time understanding some of the words they used.
6. Everyone does not live in huts
I shouldn’t laugh, but this one always makes me chuckle. When some people hear Africa, they envision mud huts and the jungle. I didn’t actually think they lived in huts, but I didn’t know where I’d be living. Needless to say, some of the houses I visited during my stay in Kenya were nicer than my house in England, and that isn’t an overstatement.
Kenya is developing quickly, but you will find a a fair number of donkeys and cows casually strolling along the roadside. It’s a bit of a shock at first but you’ll learn to love it.
If you choose to volunteer in Kenya, the country will not disappoint you. Rid your mind of any negative misconceptions and you’ll enjoy every moment of your Kenya travel adventure.
Tips for Women Travelers in Kenya
Have you traveled to Kenya? What were your impressions? We’d love to know if there’s any important information you recommend adding to this list. Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you. Tips for Women Travelers in Kenya.