Her Word - Women Living in Bomet County Respond to the COVID 19 pandemic - 24-04-2020

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The Focus Group Discussion, now in its fourth edition, continues to reveal the impact of a COVID response mechanism that fails the Leave No One Behind approach. The FGD held with women living in Bomet County was facilitated by the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) CREAW. 

From the onset, it was clear to see that the priority from the ladies, in Bomet County, was the impact COVID19 has on the well-being of their children. They noted that the government has not been keen to integrate children into their response plans. The women mentioned that they noticed that their children were quite anxious and stressed out. It did not help that they could not go out to play as parents have restricted their children’s movement to curb the spread of the virus. Additionally, women from Bomet worried that the government’s move to embrace e-learning would not work in families living in poverty in the rural areas. Apart from the inability to afford the necessary e-learning materials, some households lacked electricity. In addition, while this would work perfectly for private schools, public schools would be unable to implement the same due to under resourcing. Also, questions as to how students with disability would access exams lingered. Lastly, the announcement of the Ministry of Education to continue with national exams despite the current status of the pandemic has created panic among parents. As a result, the circulation of fake exams in Bomet County has proliferated.

On SRHR, the closure of schools has meant that girls coming from less privileged backgrounds lose out on the menstrual hygiene products that were being supplied to them in schools. Further, many pharmacies which stocked contraceptives are now closed. Due to this situation, it is expected that there will be an increase in early marriages and pregnancies among teenage girls who will be exploited for sex in order to get money to buy these essential commodities.

Already, one of the gender champions had been tipped off about a case of early marriage in her community. She however was distraught at how to handle the case because movements are severely restricted. Before physical distancing was implemented, she typically mobilized community members to protest against these cases of violence and abuse in public spaces. This is not possible right now. There are also girls who are being trapped in early marriages but are unable to access any support as they do not have phones to communicate their plight.

Further, unfortunately, advocacy around the virus has been at the expense of pregnant women; only COVID 19 patients have been encouraged to go to hospital. One woman recommended to have the messaging inclusive of the needs of other patients as opposed to giving precedence to COVID 19 patients only.

The Kenyan government directive to wear masks in all public areas has affected women. While this directive would slow down the transmission of the virus, there is an additional cost to their pocket as the Government is yet to distribute free masks. The closure of markets not only affects the availability of their household food but also adversely impacts the economic independence of women who sell groceries in the markets. These women, whose peak business hours were after curfew hours, are now unable to meet their normal daily incomes. Additionally, women in Bomet county have cited concerns of food safety based on transmission of the virus through contact.

On a more positive note, it was noted that Bomet residents are embracing the measures set out by the government. Boda boda riders are now wearing masks and are encouraging their clients to do so as well. Families have selected only one person to run errands and hand hygiene practices have been widely embraced.

One of their requests made during the discussion was to have the county government waiver water bills especially for those who had defaulted. This should be done bearing in mind the importance of water in reducing COVID 19 infections.

We are grateful to CREAW for having facilitated the discussion. If you wish to partner with us on COVID 19 response in Bomet County, kindly reach out to us on info@sdgkenyaforum.org.

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Olive Kabisa