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By Mercy Mutonyi, project coordinator for DREAMS Innovations Challenge project at the Bar Hostess Empowerment & Support Programme (BHESP) and AVAC 2019 fellow

Growing up in an informal settlement in Western Kenya, I lived in a society that labeled young women working in bars as “bad girls” who would teach the good ones “bad manners.” Nobody, not even their families, wanted to be associated with them. My family took in a cousin of mine who had been excommunicated by her family for working as a bar waitress in our hometown. I loved her dearly — she was my hair and fashion stylist and we got along very well as she was just three years older than I.

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“We are in a cage because of the various traumatic experiences we endure in our lives.” Vincent, a counselor, tells us during a trauma training session. Grace, a survivor of rape, relates to this statement. Living with her grandmother who lost her sight ten years ago and a son, she has no choice but to be the breadwinner of her family. At only 21, she works hard to ensure that the family’s needs such as food, rent, education is catered for. Grace recalls the unfortunate events that happened. “It was around midnight; I was in a hurry to reach home as it was quite late. That was when I was approached by four men who forcefully grabbed me and dragged me to a house that was unfinished.

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