During the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of sexual and gender-based violence are reported to be on the increase in Migori and Homa Bay counties in Kenya. To address the problem, Amref Health Africa in Kenya, through the Canada Africa Initiative to address Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality (CAIA MNCM) COVID 19 Response Project, is working with the county governments and community health workers to run advocacy campaigns, and create awareness on SGBV, its impacts, challenges and possible solutions.
Ensuring teenage girls have access to menstrual hygiene products plays an important role in preventing SGBV as oftentimes girls are victimized by men who offer to provide or fund these necessities. The project, which receives financial support from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, targeted 72 schools in Migori and 50 in Homa Bay, totalling to 122 schools that benefitted from dignity packs for safe menstrual hygiene management. The dignity pack for girls contains a four months supply of sanitary towels, cotton underwear, toothbrushes, soap, and toothpaste. The support will reduce absenteeism and dropouts of teen girls.
Loice Wambura Nchagwa, from Migori County, describes how lack of access to basic sanitary supplies increased the risk of SGBV. Getting pregnant was the last thing she thought of, but her situation made her fall into the trap of a young man in her community.
“I was promised a year’s supply of sanitary towels and I ended up pregnant. I wish I could go back in time and do things differently,” says Wambua.
Wambua gave birth but still went back to school to complete her primary education.
“Most of the adolescent girls in this community are unable to afford sanitary towels because of high levels of poverty. Currently, we have three cases of girls who were forced to expose themselves to early pregnancy in exchange for sanitary kits,” said Lucy Nsoto, a Community Health Assistant in Kuria West sub-county.
From the community dialogues conducted in the counties through the project, the community –particularly youth – lack access to adequate information on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Peer pressure and misinformation on matters related to SGBV have resulted in many victims of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and teen pregnancies.
Voices from the community assert that SGBV cases are rooted in gender inequality, financial power as well as emotional and psychological control. Instances of justice for the survivors being delayed have been reported because the people serving justice are close relatives and friends to the perpetrators. In some cases, parents and guardians of the survivors readily and willingly receive dowry from the people who have harmed their daughters.
COVID-19 has intensified the communities’ already fragile social-economic status, pushing members to extreme poverty. Livelihoods have been disrupted, making parents unable to provide basic menstrual kits to their daughters.
Even as the government, Amref Health Africa in Kenya and other partners supply sanitary kits to girls, sustainability remains a challenge.
“We need a multi-sectoral approach in order to sustain the provision of sanitary pads in schools,” says Mrs. Bonareri. These are sentiments shared by Mr John Nyoware, the Deputy Head Teacher of Obuyu Primary School in Rangwe. According to Mr Nyoware, the school has not received sanitary towels from the government in almost a year. “It is a concern to us because pupils from poor backgrounds are at risk of being lured by perpetrators in exchange for sanitary pads. We, therefore, call on the government to act fast and safeguard the rights of our girls by supplying enough kits.”
Maureen Cherongis, Communications Officer, Media and External Relations, Amref Health Africa
Noah Wekesa, CA, Digital Media, Amref Health Africa