Kiengu village in the outskirts of Maua town in Meru County, epitomizes the tranquility of a normal Kenyan village. The welcoming lush green vegetation breaths a sense of fresh air and calmness. The streams of water crisscrossing the village create a serene ambience of a village endowed with natural resources.
The mother of two was now struggling to make ends meet at home as the sole bread winner. She says as the country was grappling with cushioning it’s citizens from the deadly virus, she was cushioning her home from disarray, as her husband had abandoned them when he could not support the family economically.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, government enforced social distancing restrictions among them the stay at home order in a bid to suppress transmission of the Coronavirus and keep people healthy, but for many women and girls home became a ‘danger zone’ as they were forced to be in the ‘lockdown’ with their abusive spouses, partners and family members and cut off from supportive network and resources that could help them.
The ordeal of one evening morning in early July, brings gloomy memories to 38 year old *Nafula (not her real name). Her husband of three years had turned against her; what started as verbal insults progressed real quick into physical leaving her bruised.
“It was not the first time that he was abusive to me. At one point he hired goons to beat me up,” recounts Nafula.
Nafula’s own abusive experiences form part of the statistics of countless women and girls whose lives have been affected by the wave of gender based violence during the pandemic. In December 2020, a report by the National Crime Research Center indicated that incidences of gender based violence had increased by 92 percent in the period of January and June compared to that of January and December in 2019, with murder, sexual offences, defilement, grievous harm, physical abuse, child neglect and child marriages taking the larger chunk of cases.
Similarly, the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) has received increased cases of women and girls reporting violations. On average, CREAW would received 20 cases in a month, with the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers have spiked to 34 cases necessitated by the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on women and girls. Consequently, the demand for legal and counselling support was on the rise.
Amidst the surge, CREAW rolled out a 24 hour hotline-0800-720-186 to help survivors like Nafula to access support services virtually including legal information, counselling, access to safe shelters and referrals to other GBV services.
With the support from grassroots community champions and messaging on community radios and social media, CREAW has been able to publicise the hotline that now have over flow of cases reported even from the counties in the outskirts of Nairobi.
“Through the hotline, survivors are able to get timely legal aid services, information and psycho-social support to rebuild their lives,” says Nereah Oderah, the lead Counsellor who supports survivors through the helpline.
With the support from UNDP, CREAW has adapted its interventions to provide free tele-counselling and pro-bono legal services to survivors of gender based violence among them, women and girls who reside in the informal settlements of Nairobi. A total of 597 GBV survivors benefitted from pro-bono legal assistance & advice during the pandemic period.
We meet Neema* (not her real name) in the informal settlements of Kawangware where she has been living for six months since her husband of 10 years beat her and threw her out in the cold in the wee hours of the night with her two children.
“For the last 10 years I have been married to him, there has never been peace in our home. Occasionally, we would fight even on the slightest provocation,” she says, adding that everything changed when she lost her job; her husband threw her and her two young children out in the cold, and she was left to fend for her children with no income in sight.
Sadly Neema* is not the only one facing domestic violence: her experience mirrors that of many women and girls who are increasingly being trapped with their abusers at home.
With the raging cases of COVID-19 pushing households into economic slumps, women and girls “locked” with their abusers are also finding it difficult to seek safety away from violence marred homes- cutting them off from their supportive networks and resources that could help them.
Like Neema, Kadija ( not her real name) is also another survivor of domestic violence from the informal settlements of Kibera. It has only been a month since she left the shelter where she had sought refuge after receiving constant abuse from her husband that only worsened during the pandemic.
“I am unemployed and depended on my husband. Because of the pandemic, he received a pay cut and we could barely afford to pay for food and rents. Many times we would fight even over minor things. I feared for my life and that of my children,” says 29-year-old Kadija who is now separated with the husband.
As the pandemic keeps raging on, CREAW’s owned hotline-0800720186 has been a buzz with women and girls making frantic calls to report violations and seek legal and referral services. On average, the hotline receives 90 cases in a month, this compared to 20 cases during the same time last year. Similarly, the rising incidences of violence against women and girls have been further affirmed by the data from the National gender based violence (GBV) hotline 1195, indicating a 55 percent surge with women accounting for nearly 70 percent of those cases.
With the pandemic disrupting access to essential support services to survivors of GBV, CREAW, with the support from UNDP Kenya, adapted its intervention in the community during the pandemic to ensure that women and girls- survivors, especially those living in the informal settlements of Nairobi receive the much needed support to heal and build resilience beyond the pandemic.
This includes, free legal information and representation, psychosocial support to help survivors heal from their traumatic experiences. In-addition, CREAW also integrated the survivors to the existing livelihood cash reliefs intervention supported by the European Union in Kenya and shelter services as they reorganise their lives.
The last time *Sarah (not her real name) had a domestic scuffle with the husband; he nearly took life out of her.
“He came home drunk in the wee hours of the night, beat me up and stabbed me with a knife,” recalls Sarah as she chokes back tears. It was then that she made a decision to leave her matrimonial home.
Sarah recounts that it was not the first time that she had been abused by the husband; on several occasions, she was subjected to a slap, a punch, a kick… and to tap it all intimidation and coercion that only become worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our first born daughter couldn’t take the abuse, she ran away from home. It got to a point where my husband wanted to rape her,” says the 55-year-old mother of four.
Before the pandemic, Sarah was a laundry woman, she would move from house to house doing laundry and other domestic chores, when the pandemic struck, no one was willing to employ her even for other menial jobs. She says, the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the worst moments in her life.
Sarah is however not alone, her experiences mirror that of many women and girls across Kenya whose lives have been affected by the wave of intimate partner violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like Sarah, *Pendo (not her real name) was gang raped on her way home from the market. She had crossed over to Mombasa mainland from Likoni where she usually hawks cassava and coconut to make ends meet. The event of that fateful night left her with a life threatening hemorrhage.
In April, the government and women rights organizations, CREAW among them issued an alert of the increasing cases of gender based violence meted on women and girls. The recent study by the National Crime Research Center indicated a 92 percent increase in cases of GBV in the period of January and June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The nature of cases reported include, rape, assault, murder, sexual offences, defilement, child marriage, psychosocial torture and child neglect.
In the wake of this, CREAW with the support from Oxfam in Kenya adapted its intervention in Nairobi and Mombasa to provide support services to survivors of gender based violence like Sarah and Pendo. Mainly, the intervention targeted women and girls from informal settlements with cash reliefs to aid them in meeting basic necessities such as food, water, rent and healthcare for them and their families.
“The first thing I did when I received the cash from CREAW is to pay rent and the rest of the monies I bought food, mask and sanitizer,” says Sarah who has also received a resilient fund from CREAW to establish a business that would sustain her and her four children.
Currently Sarah and Pendo also receiving continuous psychosocial support services to enable them heal and build resilience during the pandemic and thereafter.
Accelerating Commitments, Investments and Action on Addressing VAW/G during and Beyond COVID19
June 4, 2020 | 2:00pm – 4:00pm
The COVID19 pandemic is an unprecedented global health emergency that continues to impact on the lives of millions of people in Kenya and across the world. While enormous efforts have been put into the containment of the novel corona virus, women and girls continue to be at risk of the secondary impacts of the pandemic such as gender-based violence.
To contain the spread of COVID19, the government of Kenya announced various measures including quarantine of people with travel history, encouraging people to stay and work from home, and putting in place a national curfew that runs from 7p.m. to 5am. Other measures include closures of schools, restaurants, places of worship, entertainment places and limiting public gatherings to not more than 15 people. While these preventive measures have been designed to keep people healthy slow and manage the spread of COVID-19, they trigger further discrimination and violence against women and girls. As evidence show, Crises do exacerbate age, gender, and disability inequalities and place women, girls, and other vulnerable populations at increased risk of Sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) and intimate partner violence (IPV). With the closure of schools, civil society groups have reported an increase in teenage pregnancies, as well as transactional sex and FGM. Sexual Violence has been on the rise and reported cases include women who have been thrown out of the rental houses due to non-payment of rent and have in the assaulted while seeking shelter in abandoned buildings. The intersectionality of Poverty and the effects of COVID has disproportionately impacted more on women and girls.
Evidently, as the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID19 infections rise, so are the numbers of GBV cases being reported. In the period of March and May 2020, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) recorded a 64% increase in incidences of sexual and gender-based violence affecting women and girls across the country with a majority of this being Intimate Partner Violence. Additionally, the Judiciary and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have recorded an increase of more than 30% of the cases being reported.
Investments to prevent and respond to violence against women have long been at crisis point. With already limited capacities and investment to address violence against women, this increase in violence is happening at a time of further reduced capacity of service providers (health, police, social care, charities) to cope with the demand.
This crisis presents us with an opportunity to increase our investments, harness our commitments and build solidarity to Ending violence against Women and Girls. Particularly, identifying concrete actions to prevent and respond to the VAW/G both in the short term and long term during and after the public health crisis.
The objective of this virtual meeting is therefore to bring together a diverse group of government leaders, policy makers, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss and identify strategies to ending Violence against women and girls. The webinar will include an overview of the issue in the National context, how existing response programs have adapted to protect survivors amid restrictions on movement during the pandemic, and possible solutions and policies to protect survivors and prevent and/or reduce violence in the long-term. As this pandemic has confirmed, Gender Based Violence is deeply rooted in the inequalities in the society.
There has never been a time before that has demonstrated the definition of prevention of GBV as life saving. This is the single reason we all must rally together and challenge the status quo, put in action definitive preventive measures and in the event of violence, ensure access to timely and immediate quality services.
Moderated by Linda Kroeger, Human Rights Lawyer and Programme Officer, KELIN
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global advocacy day to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls by breaking the silence, and raising awareness to change negative social norms around MHM, and engage decision-makers to prioritise and catalyse action for MHM, at global, national and local levels.