Access to Livelihoods for Refugee Women in Nairobi, Kenya

Forced Migration, Labor, Livelyhood, Health and Daily Life

by Manuela Ramos, Nancy Njoka, Catherine Wambui

Abstract proposal

Refugee women account for the majority of refugees in Africa. This group faces a variety of challenges that are often different from those of refugee men, especially in urban areas where there are limited protection efforts. Some of these challenges include poor education, gender-based abuse and high levels of poverty. In their efforts to pursue livelihoods, refugee women have adopted strategies to confront these difficulties. Unlike the thousands of refugees living in Kenya ‘s refugee camps, refugees in urban areas are a largely hidden population and very little is known about their numbers, profile, status, location and livelihoods. In Nairobi, refugees have been absorbed into the urban fabric, are dispersed over the city and are highly mobile. The urban refugee women are confronted by many risks in their efforts to fend for their families in a place where they are marginalized by their own cultural and religious beliefs as well as by the national laws and policies.

Nairobi is a central port for Somali diaspora. Eastleigh also functions as a cargo port, a major nord for commerce providing goods for Eastern Africa. Despite The difficulties Somali women refugees endure in Kenya, they have transformed the neighborhood of Eastleigh into “little Mogadishu” where they run distinctive businesses especially the restaurants and apparel business. As a result, they are able to provide for their households.

This group in Nairobi experiences various obstacles and enablers when it comes to access to livelihoods assets. The key obstacle as highlighted by Kenya Comprehensive Response Programme stems from the tight encampment policy that requires all the refugees to stay in the camps. Although refugees have been allowed to engage in informal employment in the past, the encampment policy has made it even more difficult since accessing work permits is next to impossible. Humanitarian actors that work with refugee women have come up with different interventions to promote access to livelihoods working through obstacles and barriers created by host governments.

This project seeks to understand the experience of Somali refugee women living in Nairobi, Kenya, both by investigating their own actions towards creating avenues to access livelihoods and by understanding their social, economic, gender and policy context in which they forge livelihoods.
The empirical data collected through fieldwork in Nairobi will serve as the basis of a qualitative case study. Building on recent studies on gender and migration that emphasize the agency of Somali urban women refugees in creating avenues to access livelihoods, this project has explored how the actions of the Kenyan government and NGOs affect access to livelihoods for urban refugee women and the consequences of these actions for Somali urban women refugees.


Manuela Ramos

Manuela Ramos is a Youth Development Advocate with expertise in human rights and migration issues. She has a background of MSc. IDS and Communication studies at Roskilde University and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism at the University of Zaragoza. Recently, she completed a qualitative fieldwork and policy analysis on access to livelihoods for refugees in Kenya as part of her master’s thesis. She has also conducted research in the areas of citizenship, urban development, participatory communications, and LGBTQ+ rights in Kenya. Her main interest is to implement participatory and community-based approaches in marginalized groups through qualitative and ethnographic research.

Nancy Njoka

Nancy is a MSc. In international development and communication studies from Roskilde University, Denmark and a Bachelor of Laws from University of Nairobi, Kenya with a passion and experience in research on forced displacement and migration, human rights, and humanitarian affairs, including the intersectionality between humanitarianism, communication and development. In the last three years she has been working in research in advocacy on forced displacement with the most recent being qualitative fieldwork research in Nairobi on access to livelihoods for urban refugees. She has been investigating participatory theory, livelihoods framework, human rights advocacy, and citizenship theory.

Catherine Wambui

Catherine Wambui has a MSc. In Global Studies and International Development from Roskilde University, and holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from University College Absalon in Denmark. She has successfully managed to work with International and local NGOs, Government institutions, and civil society, to mention a few. She is an expert in Project Management, Policy, and Strategy creation and has completed a project on preventing NCDs in Kenya, conducted a research project on HIV stigma in the Global South, and worked with Gender Inequality in Afghanistan. Forced displacement and migration, human rights, humanitarian aid, participatory communication and community-based approach amongst vulnerable groups are, therefore, an area of interest for Catherine.