One day, we were walking up Muindi Mbingu Street past City Market. She preferred walking on the road, dodging motor vehicles. I though that it was mad to do so. I didn't understand that her risk threshold would be breached if she walked on the pavement. Because I am a man and men don't know jack shit about what it takes for any woman to walk in these here streets of Nairobi.
I have never been catcalled, insulted, groped, assaulted, commented upon or, generally, harassed for walking while male in Nairobi. She has. Dozens upon dozens of times. And given how much of the available pavement space has been commandeered by "hawkers" and beggars, and the ever-rising population of pedestrians, she has been on the receiving end of a stream of harassment that I will never, ever experience. So it makes sense for her to walk on the road, dodging matatus, private cars, the occasional parking boy and glue-sniffing, shit-slinging chokora. The risk of getting run down by a motorist is preferable to the harassment that has, in the past, escalated to outright violence.
We have called for a better design for non-motorised transport in Nairobi but because the decisions are made by men who will never experience what women experience on the daily, it is almost certain that change will not come any time soon. Public architecture and civil engineering in Nairobi is predominantly driven by how the world is seen by men and because of it, women pay a heavy price - including being unfairly judged as being reckless when traversing Nairobi's streets and dodging its unhinged population of motorists that seem hellbent in violating even the unread bits of the Traffic Act.
Well, no more! I will not stand in judgment when I see women take risks to avoid being harassed and assaulted on our crowded city pavements. I will, instead, do my bit to push those that make policy, design and build public spaces to take into account the needs of women. Between the aggressively wandering hands of men and the diesel-belching Rukagina Sacco behemoths of Ronald Ngala Street, I now have a slight inkling of why women prefer the latter. Men, really, are trash