Her Word - Women Living in Kajiado County Respond to the COVID 19 pandemic - 15/05/2020

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Our series of Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) looking at how COVID19 has impacted women and girls from various backgrounds has wrapped up with perspectives from women living in Kajiado County on 15 May 2020.

Kajiado County is expansive; it borders Nairobi, Makueni, Kiambu, Nakuru, Machakos and Narok counties, extending to the Tanzania border points of Namanga and Loitokitok further south. When the first COVID 19 case was confirmed by the Ministry of Health in Kenya on 12th March 2020 a participant mentioned that the perception amongst Kajiado county residents was that the virus was only spreading in Nairobi county.

The COVID 19 lockdown and quarantine measures have negatively impacted the crafts and curio businesses, largely owned and operated by women in Kajiado County. The women who sell their wares to tourists and business people have been left without a source of income following the ban on international flights and restrictions on travel within the country. Additionally, though food and goods are moving across counties, the beef and dairy sectors which contribute significantly to the county’s economy have slowed down. With movement restrictions and a 7pm to 5am curfew in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, women who supply milk for example cannot move products as fast as they previously did.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS 2014) showed that 21 per cent of women and girls aged between 15-49 years in Kenya have undergone Femal Genital Mutilation (FGM), with the practice still higher among communities in Kajiado County at 78%. It is directly linked to forced and early marriage and is typically carried out on young girls below the age of 15 to make them eligible brides. The enactment of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 was a great milestone for Kenya and the country has seen a national decline in the prevalence of FGM. The Kajiado County Anti-FGM Policy was assented to by Governor Joseph Ole Lenku on 21st August 2019. The policy provides a framework for the eradication of FGM, singling out FGM as an illegal activity and a violation of human rights. However, the COVID 19 pandemic is eroding the efforts made to reduce FGM. Cynthia Simantoi, an Anti- FGM advocate, states that proponents of FGM are now taking advantage of lengthy school closure period reasoning that it will be a sufficient recovery period for girls who undergo the cut before returning to school.

Virginia Lekumoisa, a Children’s Rights Officer at the Kajiado County government says that this is not the only area where girls’ rights are being violated. Girls from less privileged backgrounds who previously accessed menstrual hygiene products in school are now unable to do so. Thus, there has been an increase in child sexual exploitation due to period poverty. Alice Masinte, Founder of Naret Intoiye Organisation declares girls are being encouraged to get married because there is currently no schooling. And, with the current economic strain, girls are being viewed as assets for dowry now more than ever.

Further, Gender Based Violence (GBV) has been on the rise due to the slowing down of markets (which has reduced household incomes) due to the partial lockdown and curfew. With the culture of silence surrounding GBV, there has been an increase in depression rates and suicide deaths by women in violent homes.

One of the major concerns from women living in Kajiado County is maternal and newborn health care. There have been many home births assisted by traditional birth attendants due to curfew restrictions and the fear of getting infected by the virus in the hospital. Sadly, women are not taking their newborns for vaccination and immunization due to the fear of getting infected by COVID 19 ast health facilities.

While a few of the participants have their own ongoing initiatives to respond to the pandemic such as provision of pads, distribution of food stuffs, they recommend synergy with the government for higher impact. This includes supplying Sexual Reproductive Health essentials to women and girls at specific points. There was also the need to strengthen child protection responses. Additionally, there needs to be a targeted response for GBV survivors including safe shelters and effective court referral systems.

We are grateful to the White Ribbon Alliance for having facilitated the discussion. You can reach out to us via info@sdgkenyaforum.org to find out how to partner on an anti-COVID 19 response in Kajiado County.

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Olive Kabisa