Behind the Bright Pink Gate

Collage of the bright pink gate you can’t miss.

An hour outside of Nairobi, chickens run through the dust. In the distance appears a bright pink gate you can’t miss. This pink gate has become the symbol for a new generation of girls who, with confidence and purpose, are taking back their power.

This is no easy feat in a region where, for many girls, it’s not a matter of if they will be raped, but when. Even in 2018, girls in rural areas live a hard life. They fetch water, do household labour, and marry young. Their bodies and their struggles are often invisible.

The bright pink gate is anything but invisible. Opening to a courtyard sheltered by a regal umbrella tree, the gate announces the Resource Centre for Women and Girls (RCWG). On any given day, girls sit under the tree laughing, reading, or brainstorming the many ways to say “vagina” in any one of Kenya’s 60+ languages.

The RCWG is a safe space. But that doesn’t mean that work behind the pink gates is easy. When a cohort of girls starts at the Centre, the first task is to dispel myths: about sex, the body, and day-to-day challenges. An exercise called “Auntie’s Box” allows girls to ask their burning questions. Can a girl get pregnant after having sex for the first time? Can you have sex while on your period? If you were raped at age 2, is that considered sex?

RCWG is anything but conventional, and their methods take effect almost immediately. In one lesson, girls stand on one side of the garden wall. RCWG staff stand on the other. Girls are asked to speak, louder, louder, and louder still until they can be heard from the other side. This is how girls learn to speak up–to make themselves heard.

In another lesson, girls learn about the radical act of pleasure. Introduced to an array of sex toys, girls are told, often for the first time, that their body belongs to them. In life, they–and they alone–choose who can and cannot touch their bodies. They learn that their right to pleasure extends beyond any sexual partner.

Over the last decade, a spunky group of women at the grassroots have kept the doors to the RCWG open with a combination of business savvy, heart, and youth-led vision. Ask anyone at the RCWG and they will tell you: the future is female. And the future can already be heard, loudly calling you inside the bright pink gate.