Her Word - Women Living in Nakuru County Respond to the COVID 19 pandemic - 14-04-2020

Click to listen to the full interview

Early in the COVID-19 outbreak, gender experts warned of the impact of a lack of a gendered approach to COVID 19 response mechanisms. This included increased violence against women and girls as a result of lockdown and quarantine measures, loss of economic independence, lack of access to essential Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services and products among others. The SDGs Kenya Forum conducted a focus group discussion to get a perspective of the impact of COVID 19 on women living in Nakuru County.

One of the largest sub counties within Nakuru County is Naivasha. Being a horticultural town, a participant lamented that most flower farms have been shut down and thus, most of their workers have been laid off. Additionally, employees who worked in the hospitality sector have also been affected by the shutdown of the hospitality industry - entertainment spots remain closed. There are few local or international tourists visiting Naivasha boasting of Hells Gate Reserve, hippos and birds around Lake Naivasha and the hot springs that power Olkaria Geothermal power plant. Traders dealing with 2nd hand clothes (mitumba) have also lost out as they are now totally banned by the Kenya Bureau of Standards until further notice. It is important to note that most of the employees in the hospitality and horticultural sectors are women. The adjustment measures by these companies to lay off workers, has seen an increase in Gender Based Violence (GBV) especially in homes that had already been experiencing GBV as abused women become more dependent on their violent spouses. Community Health Volunteers are also unable to efficiently assist survivors of GBV as they also practice social distancing and quarantine. Moreover, Naivasha town is a major transit corridor for goods and people into Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The cessation of movement of people in and out of Nairobi heavily impacts the transport sector; it has also seen a high reduction of various products stocked in shops (such as construction and technological materials) which it heavily relies on Nairobi for.

Evidence from pandemics points to deprioritization of SRH products and services for women and girls as health care infrastructure focuses on responding solely to the pandemic. Whereas such are provided in schools, women in Nakuru County noted that young girls now not in school and from less privileged backgrounds, are unable to access menstrual hygiene products. Thus, they resort to boda boda (motorbike) riders who may support these  and other monetary needs in exchange for sex. As a result, they anticipate an increase in teenage pregnancies and early marriages if there are no interventions. Further, women are unable to access local health care facilities in time depending on their needs as dispensaries continue to observe fewer working hours due to the curfew.

The ghosts of the 2007 post election violence continue to haunt this county and the desperate conditions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are magnified now more than ever. For example, in Subukia, many families continue to live in the IDP camps as squatters since plans to resettle them in proper housing have bore no fruit. Thus, these families and other families living in poverty have been unable to procure hand washing equipment including jerricans and soap. Many don’t have the correct information from the government on the COVID19 pandemic because they don’t have access to TV or Radio, let alone SMS and internet.

Despite these negative outcomes, there are a few positives; locals in Nakuru County have tailored COVID 19 preventive measures to ensure they keep afloat economically. Women who work in markets have adopted physical distancing to cushion themselves against the harsh economic times. They have established a rota for women who sell their produce in the market. This reduces the risk of infection of the virus. Farm employees also maintain physical  distancing and employers are using cashless transactions for payment.

Despite this, there is still so much to be done. Women living in Nakuru County requested for information regarding COVID19 that could be shared on various social media platforms and other innovative ways that will take the message to remote parts of the county, so as to create awareness and educate individuals on the ground on preventive measures against the virus. They suggest that the local administration (chiefs) can be instrumental in disseminating information - especially from a government's stance. They are also desperately in need for the  hand hygiene products, food stuffs and menstrual hygiene products as essential products to be distributed to the locals during the lockdown - especially to the most vulnerable who are poor, the elderly and persons living with disability

Kindly reach out to us via info@sdgkenyaforum.org to partner with us on COVID19 response mechanisms in Nakuru county. We are grateful to Pauline and Emily at GROOTS Kenya for facilitating the insightful conversation.

Click to listen to the full interview

Stay tuned to the campaign as we speak to women from other counties to unpack their lived realities.




Olive Kabisa