Her Word - Women Living in Kilifi County Respond to the COVID 19 pandemic - 30-04-2020

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It is the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. The sacred month of the Islamic calendar is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next. During the holy month, Muslims wake up early to eat a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, and they break their fast with a meal referred to as iftar. It is common for mosques to host large iftars, especially for the poor and needy. Nightly prayers called Tarawih are also held in mosques after iftar.

Different cultures have different traditions during Ramadan, whether it is a special food they must cook, or eating iftar with the extended family. Islamic tenets such as generosity inspired most of these traditions, including sharing food and inviting guests over for iftar.

However, this year Ramadan just like the Easter celebrations will most certainly be less festive due to the coronavirus pandemic as everyone globally takes precautions to curb the spread of the virus by banning or limiting social gatherings, and closing mosques.

Kilifi is also one of the counties where a total cessation of movement has been effected by the National Government. The inaccessibility of markets by vendors and supplier farmers has seen a sharp rise in food supply shortages. At a time when food stuffs are critical especially after breaking the fast, it is a frightening time for Muslim women living in Kilifi County to access food stuffs in the market. Thus, they choose to stay home because it is far less risky to get infected with COVID19. They have resorted to online shopping, which is costly and inaccessible to many especially in the informal settlements. Yet, these are the times to reduce spending and save for emergency cases. The tradition to invite family and friends to break the fast is impossible due to the recommended guidelines to practice physical distancing; in turn it has affected individuals’ and families’ mental well-being.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) and defilement cases have been on the rise since the lockdown and quarantine measures were implemented in the country. Ms Kibibi shares that a woman who was battered by her father had no one to take her to hospital as they feared the police brutality which was witnessed at Mombasa county’s Likoni Ferry crossing. Also, perpetrators of GBV are also taking advantage of the current situation in which courts are closed. However, FIDA’s has responded to this need by sharing a toll free number where survivors of GBV are able to report and get the support they need.

The women argued that the closure of schools has disrupted education. Additionally, online learning is impossible as not every family in Kilifi County owns a smartphone, radio or T.V to facilitate learning. Additionally, some homes do not have the conducive environment to facilitate learning. For many, school is not only an escape from abuse, but it is also where children get a daily meal. But they propose to have supplementary revision papers distributed through the county so that their children (especially candidates) can still keep up with their school syllabus.

In addition, the economic situation of women, especially those selling groceries in the market has been adversely affected. This is because curfew hours coincide with the peak business hours. Additionally, while the government’s directive to provide tax relief for loan holders took effect, women who have borrowed from micro financing companies are being harassed to pay their loans back.

Additionally, many individuals do not just fear contracting COVID 19, but the stigma that has come to be associated with quarantine measures that have been put in place by the National Government (though isolation centres in Kilifi county are free). After the deputy governor of Kilifi County defied quarantine measures after an international travel, it is known that he came into contact with other officials whom he might have transmitted the virus to. Thus, most officials from the county were discriminated against at the time for fear that they would pass on the virus to the wider population. Unfortunately, this stigma also extends to health care workers who are at the frontline of COVID 19.

The interviewees however were grateful that the government has permitted restaurants to operate (to preserve livelihoods) with a few guidelines set to prevent the spread of the disease. It is also positive, as earlier stated, to note that isolation centers in Kilifi do not charge those who have been quarantined. Additionally, the community is embracing hand hygiene practices and at every point of entry, hand washing has been facilitated.

Please reach out to us via info@sdgkenyaforum.org should you need to partner on COVID19 response in Kilifi County.

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Olive Kabisa