Her Word - Women Living in Kitui County Respond to the COVID 19 pandemic - 07/05/2020

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This week’s Focus Group Discussion (FGD) took on unique perspectives as we engaged two pastors (a man and a woman) during the discussion. The other two participants were women: a poultry farmer and a tree seedling saleswoman.

Just like other participants from previous , these participants have been feeling the economic pinch as a result of the COVID 19 response mechanisms by the national government. Ms Vivian, who sells tree seedlings has noted a drop in sales since the quarantine and lockdown measures were implemented - despite the favorable heavy rains being experienced in the country. Revenue generation has reduced due to reduced demand as everyone r cuts back on working operations to practice physical distancing. This, she says, coupled with the loss of her partner’s hotelier job has drastically affected the sustenance of her family’s needs. She now navigates the role of being the sole family breadwinner. She would have loved to comply with the guidelines to stay home but she is willing to risk her health in order to afford the basic necessities for her family. Nevertheless, she takes precautions as she serves her clients by practicing hand hygiene, wearing masks and physical distancing.

This experience was echoed by Ms Mary, an indigenous poultry farmer in Kitui County. She too has been affected by the COVID 19 preventive measures. She noted that the interdependence between counties has undergone an enormous strain. Unlike previously, she is now neither able to transport her poultry to various counties for selling nor procure products that her poultry needs from other counties. Additionally, while most businesses in Kitui County have closed down, thieves have taken advantage and are stealing from premises.

In the social context, all participants reported that the separation between families has been detrimental to their mental well-being. Previously, one would easily visit their friends and extended family, but now the restricted movement has caused tension especially among the elderly. Also, although funds to cushion the elderly during the pandemic were rolled out, accessing these funds has been problematic to them. Due to this, there are other vulnerable groups affected such as orphans, low income earners and the disabled who have yet to receive sufficient support.

Reverend John and Pastor Kathini remark that weddings no longer have the same feel that they had before the restrictions on gatherings. While they can still officiate weddings, the number of attending guests has been reduced to at least 10 individuals.

Pastor Kathini and Rev John depended on the church for their needs. With the closure of places of worship, this has negatively impacted their income and subsequent support for their families. However, this has not stopped them from congregating their parishioners for worship and prayer. They engage their parishioners through WhatsApp.

All participants note that there has been an increase in Gender Based Violence (GBV). Ms Vivian mentions that she has supported a survivor of GBV to get assistance through the local chief by accompanying her to report the matter. She is quick to note that this is a unique case that was reported. This means that many cases go unreported.

As for the access to Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services and products, women and girls are experiencing a sharp rise in prices. Vendors are taking advantage of the current shortage to maximize profits. This has led to exploitation of young girls which will lead to an increase of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Infections and early pregnancies.

The women participants also note an increase in unpaid care work as they have had to let go of helpers in the home. Additionally, while children would be fed and taken care of in schools for the better part of the day, they now have to prepare the three meals a day including other household chores such as cleaning and washing.

Still, they all reported practicing the recommended guidelines by the Ministry of Health such as wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene and physical distancing. If you wish to partner with us on COVID 19 response in Kitui County, please reach out to us via info@sdgkenyaforum.org.

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Olive Kabisa