Domestic violence amid Covid-19

Jackline Mwende with Dr. Michael Maru (right)  an orthopaedic surgeon. Ms Mwende is a domestic violence victim. Covid-19 has brought with it a number of challenges including a rise in GBV. PHOTO | POOL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) spike in the country, in less than a month, draws attention to urgent intervention.

On April 2, Chief Justice David Maraga Chief Justice David Maraga noted the rise in sexual offences since March 13, when coronavirus was first confirmed in Kenya. He said sexual offences constituted 35.8 per cent of cases recorded since then.

The Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs has reported a 42 per cent increase in the past one month.  

The Cabinet Secretary (CS) Prof Margaret Kobia said, in a phone interview on Tuesday, that sexual abuse cases are majority of the offences reported through the GBV toll free number 1,195 managed by her ministry.

In February, 62 cases were reported against the 106 in March, she said. While 50, were reported in January.

She said the number would, however, be higher as she observed that “many others may not be reported due to the stigma associated with SGBV, and some cases are reported to the police.”

SGBV is a serious problem in Kenya. About 39 per cent of women and girls aged above 15 years have experienced some form of SGBV according to National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC).

One in four of them experiencing such violence each year, with Kenya losing approximately Sh46 billion annually due to SGBV.

Toll free line

Prof Kobia said the ministry seeks to establish the correlation between the rise in the incidents and Covid-19.

The findings would inform their advisory to the government on the most appropriate gender responsive measures to protect the lives of women and girls.

The ministry is working on switching the GBV toll free line from physical to mobile operation.

With the physical operation, the staff had to go to the State Department of Gender to access the phone lines to assist the distressed Kenyans, thus unreachable at night.

“It will now be mobile so that staff on duty are able to respond (to callers) throughout the day and night,” she said.

Rise of SGBV abuse is a global concern as victims have been locked up with abusive partners in lockdowns or curfew. Economic hardships due to lost jobs or unpaid leave, is also having a mental toll on household providers.

Since March, heads of United Nations, UN Women and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have reminded nations to adopt and implement measures that adequately respond to women’s and girls’ needs.

They have called for provision of SGBV responsive mechanisms and meeting their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs.

UNFPA is seeking US$67.5 million to facilitate countries, especially those with weak public and social support systems to effectively avail SGBV and SHR services.

Prof Kobia said her ministry had advised the government to be more responsive to the women’s and girls’ needs in all its interventions.

Expectant mothers

“The first concern we raised with the government was on treating expectant women the way they have treated those above 58 years,” she said.

The government has taken various measures since the first case of coronavirus was reported in the country. President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered public servants and State officer above 58, to either take leave or work from home.

He also advised government entities to allow workers in non-essential services to work from home; and directed employers in private sector to follow suit.

Furthermore, he ordered for closure of learning institutions and imposed a 7pm to 5am curfew across the country.

The latest measure, he announced on April 6, restricts out-and inbound movements in the four counties-Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale - identified as hotspots of Covid-19 infections.

With the restricted movements, came the concern of what becomes of expectant women or mothers with infants likely to seek ante-natal or post-natal care in cross-county medical facilities.

Health workers

Prof Kobia, however, said women falling in that category would not be prohibited from seeking medical attention in a hospital within the red flagged counties.

She said health workers are among the officers stationed at the roadblocks, and they are to clear mother and childcare cases that need maternity, nursing or referral hospitals’ attention.

Speaking to NTV on Thursday, the CS noted that men too, are affected, and that one out of nine are in abusive relationships vis-à-vis one out of five for women.

“Families are all at home and with increased unemployment, fears of tomorrow and heightened stress levels, violence is bound to happen and it can be physical or emotional,” she said.

Wairimu Munyinyi-Wahome, the Executive Director of Coalition on Violence Against Women-Kenya Covaw (K) proposes an urgent intervention involving the Ministry of Health adopting a SGBV strategy to fight Covid-19.

In a phone interview on Thursday, she appealed to the CS for Health Mutahi Kagwe, to integrate SGBV messaging in his daily updates to save lives of many women and girls.

She said Mr Kagwe had the influence to change people’s attitudes by reminding them that “staying at home doesn’t mean you perpetuate violence against your loved one.”

She also noted that GBV cannot be delinked from controlling the epidemic as women and girls are victims of its outbreak.

“In Kwale, for instance, the tourism sector has collapsed and women have nowhere to sell their wares. Some worked as cleaners or run small shops. Some are young mothers and have children to feed. What will they do? They will … sell their bodies? Some will opt to marry into abusive relationships to survive,” she noted.

Cut girls

“In Narok, it is likely FGM will increase because people are home and neighbours are minding their own business. The girls are not going to school where they would raise those concerns with teachers.

“Unfortunately, the cut girls are more vulnerable to early marriages or pregnancies because they are now assumed to have become of age,” she added.

She said Covid-19 has a chain of repercussions, which has a long-term effect on women and girls.

“We don’t want a situation where less girls are going back to school when we return to new normal. Or many girls infected with HIV because they were unable to protect themselves, or a mother cannot work again because she was maimed in an incident of domestic violence during this period,” said the Covaw (K)’s executive director.

She proposed that the government should effect a comprehensive community approach to taming SGBV during this period, instead of asking those at risk to seek help through the hotlines.

“In a situation of violence, the perpetrator will always ensure you cannot communicate. Hotlines are good, but how many people have the luxury or know about them?” she posed.

She said community health workers, neighbours, chiefs and police on patrol should be equipped with SBGV messages and techniques on how to respond to such cases.

Social protection

UN Women-Kenya has pledged to support the government effect gender-responsive measures including pumping more resources into management of 1195 GBV hotline.

It also plans to intensify Covid-19 and anti-GBV campaigns, and extend social protection support to households whose income is insecure, including provision of dignity kits to women and girls.

It further purposes to support baseline study to assess the gendered impacts of Covid-19 to determine how it is affecting women and men differently, and use the findings to inform targeted response.


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