Her Word - Women Living in Kibra in Respond to the COVID 19 pandemic - 02-04-2020

The COVID19 (Corona Virus Disease) has brought an unprecedented effect on the global socio-economic and political activities that enable human beings to meet their day to day needs and have interactions.

Click to listen to the full interview

By now, nearly all Governments, in different jurisdictions, have imposed movement restrictions, from curfews and full lockdowns to different forms of social distancing as well as mandatory quarantine for any travellers arriving from international destinations, to reduce the chances of spread and contact with COVID 9. The Kenyan government has spelt out different measures including closure of institutions of learning, reduction of funeral attendance to strictly include immediate families, a daily curfew and restriction of passengers using public transport.

Even with these preventative measures being taken, there has been a glaring lack of preparedness and planning on the government’s part especially in responding to vulnerable groups in ascertaining health and well being even in these dire circumstances.

The purpose of this discussion

The SDGs Kenya Forum conducted a Focus Group Discussions with women from Kibra - facilitated by Ms. Esther Andayi from Polycom Development - who gave information of their lived realities highlighting the challenges they have encountered with the recent COVID19 preventive response. This was done through WhatsApp - in line with the government’s directive encouraging citizens to stay at home and practice social distancing.

What have we learnt?

While some individuals have a technological advantage to work from home and facilitate e-learning for their children, women living in Kibra stated that this is not a reality for them. This is because their businesses often only allows them to live hand-to-mouth; social distancing has exacerbated the problem. Further, due to lack of access to technology such as smartphones and/or laptops, they have been unable to provide their children with access to various online educational platforms (currently being offered by institutions such as the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development and publishers with e-learning platforms such as Longhorn Publishers) that have been instituted to ensure continuity of the school syllabus. Additionally, given their living arrangements, social distancing is only effective during the day when most members of the family are out of the house. However, during night time, because of poverty, their houses are not spacious enough to afford them the luxury of social distancing given that some families even share beds.

With this being the case, their children and teenagers are idle. Without the daily pre-occupation of school work to keep them busy, they foresee a lot of early teen pregnancies. They are of the opinion that with a lot of free time in their hands, their energy will be channeled to premarital sexual activity. In addition, they highlighted that with COVID19 being given priority in the country, most hospitals are not offering sexual reproductive health services that would provide contraceptives and counselling to these teenagers. They also highlighted their concern for pregnant women and girls during this time who might go into labor at night during the curfew hours. With this they mentioned the lack of empathy from police officers scouting their communities who might beat up the pregnant woman instead of supporting them as they seek assistance.

They also showed concern for people living with disabilities, who are among the vulnerable persons in their area during this time. They are unable to access water points or actively access the support offered by their local administration in terms of food relief. Because of the social distancing, they are neglected and are unable to care for themselves. Another vulnerable group are the elderly, especially those who are caregivers to orphaned children in informal settlements. They are not tech savvy enough to access e-learning for children under their care. Also given their old age, most of them are unable to physically move to distribution points for food and other necessities. They are also unable to access water points to wash their hands. They are also at risk of contracting the virus from their active grandchildren, who offer them support and may pass the virus onto them.

Our participants are concerned that cases of Gender-Based Violence are bound to be on the rise given the quarantine and curfew measures as well as heightened emotions of fear, anger and hopelessness in their homes. Those facing these challenges are unable to access safe shelters given that most of these services are on a lockdown because of the curfew. Many of the victims are not only women, but children who have nowhere to turn to for assistance in these scenarios.

Lastly, community workers in their line of social work have been unable to dispense their duties to their community as they’re observing social distancing. Services such as distribution of sanitary towels by community workers to most girls in Kibra is not happening as in the past anymore because of social distancing.

In conclusion, as we observe COVID19 response mechanisms by other countries, let us have a response tailored to the Kenyan context, to ensure that no one is left behind.

Thank you note: We thank Ms. Esther and Ms Jane Anyango of Polycom for facilitating this discussion.

Click to listen to the full interview




Olive Kabisa, Winnie Muindi and David Ringera