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Nairobi dance parties where men are banned

Tuesday August 13 2019

A team behind a new night in Nairobi argues

A team behind a new night in Nairobi argues all-women's dance parties can create safe nightlife spaces for women.  

BBC
By BBC
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A team behind a new night in Nairobi argues all-women's dance parties can create safe nightlife spaces for women.

On a warm evening in a suburb of the Kenyan capital, a residential outdoor space has been hired out to be used as a dance floor.

Music is playing loudly and women are dancing.

"You have to be so strict in a place with men. You just want to go out with your friends and men interfere," says Jane, 26, who's come to the party with her best friend Shani.

"So having a space where it's all women immediately feels safe and you feel you are with people who understand you."

Security is tight and while a few men are let in, it is only to drop off the women they are accompanying.

After that, the men all have to leave immediately.

And it's not just the partygoers who adhere to the single-sex policy: the bar tenders, security officers, DJs, sound mixers, MCs and ushers are also all women.

'SAFE SPACE'

Unpleasant experiences when out with friends in mixed clubs is part of the reason the two welcomed the idea of an all-women's rave.

"When I learnt that it is a safe space for women I immediately signed up," says Shani.

Shani and Jane enjoy clubbing and heard about the all-women's dance party on Twitter.

The night, called Strictly Silk, was conceived by Njoki Ngumi, Njeri Gatungo and Akati Khasiani, all members of The Nest Collective, a Kenyan multi-disciplinary arts collective that also works across film, music, fashion and other arts.

They started the all-women's dance parties in 2018 but the inspiration behind it was more than simply a night of fun.

"2018 was a difficult year for a lot of Kenyan women. There were a lot of stories about violence and people were becoming bolder about misogyny online and offline," says Ms Ngumi.

"There were a lot of stories around sexual harassment. We just wanted to curate this energy in celebration of women in spaces that are not usually welcome for women and especially things to do with nightlife," she adds.

Kenya has been in the spotlight recently with some well publicised cases of rape and alarming cases of femicide.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

In 2018, international charity Plan International ranked Nairobi sixth among 22 global cities where women were most likely to be sexually harassed.

The interviewed experts said Kenyan women stood a 50 percent chance of being sexually harassed in public spaces.

And in May 2019 the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (Fida Kenya), raised the alarm, saying they had recorded over 50 femicide cases in the first five months of the year.

EXCLUSIVE PLACES

Munira, 22 and Khadija, 25 are best friends. As practising Muslims, they often find themselves with minimal options when it comes to night life.

They say that, although women from all faiths attend the all-women parties, they particularly suit Muslims.

"Some of us have to remove our hijabs to blend in when we are out dancing. When they see you with a hijab, people are surprised and wonder what you are doing there.

"A space like this is also better because we are forbidden from freely mingling with men," Khadija says.

"It's difficult because there are simply no exclusive all-women clubs," adds Munira.

Although all-women dance parties may seem like a novel concept, the idea of exclusive safe spaces for women is not new.

Ms Ngumi asserts that Indian, Arabic cultures and even some religions like Islam, have long had exclusive spaces for women, although these spaces were mediated by patriarchal or religious systems.

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