Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Dynamics of Women's Fear of Victimization: An Exploration of Women's Perceptions of Safety, Crime, and Security in Informal Settlements in Nairobi, Kenya (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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277P (WITHDRAWN) Dynamics of Women's Fear of Victimization: An Exploration of Women's Perceptions of Safety, Crime, and Security in Informal Settlements in Nairobi, Kenya

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Samantha Winter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Nathan Aguilar, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, NY
Lena Obara, MA, Doctoral Student, Rutgers University-Newark, New Brunswick, NJ
Background and Purpose: Approximately 1 billion people worldwide and 56% of Nairobi’s three-million residents live in informal settlements, with numbers expected to triple by 2050. While informal settlements are often characterized as having high rates of crime and violence, there is a little research focused on residents’ experiences and perceptions of these occurrences in their communities and how they influence residents’ sense of safety, fears, and behaviors. This study sought to help fill this gap by examining women’s perceptions of safety, crime, and security in a large informal settlement in Nairobi; what role these phenomena play in women’s lives; and their suggestions to reduce crime and increase safety and security.

Methods: 55 in-depth interviews were conducted with women living in Mathare--the most densely populated and second largest informal settlement in Nairobi. Women interviewed were purposefully sampled from a list of interested participants who attended informational meetings in Mathare in 2015-2016. In addition to selecting 5 women from each of Mathare’s 11 villages, we used maximum variation sampling to include women representing diverse experiences, demographic characteristics, and access to services and neighborhood environments. Women’s perceptions of safety, security, and crime emerged as key factors associated with their daily experiences, fears, and behaviors. Interviews were transcribed in Swahili and translated into English. Guided by a grounded theory approach, transcripts were coded thematically using NVivo qualitative software.

Results: Women painted a complex picture of safety, crime, and security in Mathare. Their descriptions suggest these issues are dynamic and inescapable in this settlement—both affected by and influencing systemic disparities and the experiences, decisions, actions, and daily lives of women living there. Security emerged as one of the most prominent factors in women’s decisions regarding the management of daily tasks, how and when they use or avoid certain spaces, where to live and when to leave, and how they perceive their environment. While most women agreed insecurity in Mathare is a serious concern, they have adopted strategies to improve personal safety. Many perceive positive improvements in the security of their communities. Others feel security has worsened or varies with time and changing circumstances. Women have recommended solutions to address issues of crime and insecurity in informal settlements, others have lost hope or trust in community or police interventions—turning, instead, to God for protection. We centered the voices of these women as they described the complexity of these issues in informal settlements.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings highlight the dynamic and complex nature of women’s safety and fears of victimization as well as crime and security in informal settlements in Nairobi. Women’s strategies to improve safety and security in these communities included interventions employing youth (seen as potential perpetrators of crime and violence), engaging local government and community members in co-production strategies to increase policing, and making small infrastructure changes to enhance safety. By listening to women’s voices, social workers, developers, researchers, and policymakers can consider more appropriate policies, support, and advocacy interventions that enhance women’s sense of safety and security in these communities.