Rachel*, a single mother of three and a businesswoman was greatly affected when the pandemic broke out in Kenya in March 2020. She owned a small hotel and when the pandemic broke out and restaurants were ordered to close, she was out of a job and a means to support her family. Afterwards, when restaurants were allowed to open albeit with measures in place including social distancing, her business was struggling as customers were afraid to dine in. As a result, she was forced to close her business as she had no money to run it or customers to serve.
Health Principal Secretary, Susan Mochache says that psycho-social cases have risen tremendously since the pandemic began thus becoming a matter of concern. However, she says it is to be expected as we have had to get used to a new normal. Last year, 2,330 people called the emergency toll free hotline 1199 wanting advice on how to handle stress citing a lack of money and employment.
Similarly related, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), 1.7 million people lost their jobs when Covid-19 hit in 2020. Kenya also saw an increased number of sexual and gender-based violence cases throughout the year. As such, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the help of government bodies helped in the fight against GBV. One such NGO is the Wangu Kanja Foundation whose vision is a society free of sexual violence.
The repercussions of the measures to deal with the pandemic, including rising financial and food insecurity, heightened the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual exploitation, rape, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. To mitigate this, the Wangu Kanja Foundation in partnership with six other NGOs launched a safety net programme targeting Kenyan informal settlements. The programme funded by the European Union (EU), Danish and German governments was to supplement Kenyan government interventions that were already supporting low income and vulnerable households.
Rachel was directed to the Wangu Kanja foundation by her friend when she was struggling with the stress that came about after she was forced to close down her business. Due to the financial burden, she was faced with afterwards, she was kicked out of her house as she was no longer able to pay rent. This fueled her anguish and was glad when she found help through the foundation. They began by offering her counselling services and then proceeded to support her financially by providing her with approximately 7,700 Kenyan shillings every month for three months. She was also equipped with skills to help her earn a living. The skills included how to make soap and sanitizers as well as sewing clothes. The support Rachel received enabled her to start a business and survive during a time many were struggling.
Catherine Kamau, the programs officer at Wangu Kanja Foundation says the safety net programme dubbed ‘Covid-19 social safety net for vulnerable households’ was targeting GBV survivors. She continued to say that the project majorly focused on women because they were the majority of those who would report when assaulted but that men and children were also part of it. She revealed that the foundation had financially assisted 285 SGBV survivors in 2020 who were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. She also mentioned that they had contracted 10 other counsellors to help counsel people who had been abused as previously they only had 1 in-house counsellor who could not keep up with the demand.
As more and more SGBV survivors gain the strength and courage to speak up, more NGOs must lend their support to the fight against this vice in conjunction with the government even as plans are underway to remove systemic barriers that allow GBV to thrive.
The original story, ‘Jukumu la mashirika yasiyo ya serikali katika kupigana na Covid-19’ was aired on August 4th 2021 and reported by Caroline Wambere.
*Not her real name.