The COVID-19 pandemic has been the fastest-moving global public health crisis in a century, causing significant mortality and morbidity, and giving rise to daunting health and socioeconomic challenges. In humanitarian and fragile settings and low-income countries, where these systems are already weak, the pandemic is disrupting access to life-saving gender-based violence (GBV), sexual and reproductive health services, especially among girls who no longer find shelter in educational institutions and/or living in marginalized areas. It is also compounding existing gender and social inequalities.
Evidence indicates an increase of female genital mutilation (FGM), child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and other forms of GBV, since the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency. The estimate is that for every three months of further lockdown, an additional 15 million women and girls will be affected by violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a one-third reduction in progress towards ending GBV by 2030. More specifically, COVID-19 could have far-reaching impacts on the effort to end female genital mutilation. Due to COVID-19 disruptions, we anticipate 2 million FGM cases over the next decade that would otherwise have been averted. Similarly, COVID-19 will disrupt planned efforts to end child marriage and cause wide-reaching economic consequences. Together, these factors are expected to result in an additional total of 13 million child marriages taking place, that otherwise would not have occurred, between 2020 and 2030.
Globally, gender equality remains an unfulfilled promise. Despite demonstration that empowered women and girls are core to reducing poverty and promoting development at all levels, they are still
underrepresented in important decision-making tables. Whereas the Kenyan national equality index
stands at 0.55, Samburu and Marsabit record 0.66 and 0.69 respectively, representing relevant gaps in relation to health, education, economics, and politics. Samburu and Marsabit are in fact both settled by patriarchal pastoralist communities where gender inequality is deeply rooted, and have extremely high prevalence rates of GBV, specifically two harmful practices: FGM stands at 86% and 91,7% and CEFM at 38% and 80% (Samburu and Marsabit Counties respectively).
Amref Health Africa, in collaboration with Amref International University, has released research findings on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on key health issues including HIV programming, female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), child, early and forced marriage (CEFM), socio-economic wellbeing of youth and pandemic response governance in Kenya. The findings were released at a press conference held in Nairobi on December 10th. The qualitative component of the research involved conducting in-depth Interviews. These demonstrated that, before COVID-19, the majority of the respondents were of the view that cases of FGM and CEFM were decreasing in
Kajiado, Samburu and Marsabit counties. In contrast, during COVID-19, most of the study respondents believed that the pandemic had led to an increase in both FGM (55%) and
CEFM (64%) cases. The most common reason given for the increasing number of FGM cases was closure of schools (50%) and people staying at home for longer periods of time, while economic losses/income (39%) were the most common reasons given for perceived increase in CEFM cases during COVID-19.
GBV is a key symptom of gender power differentials in society and their reinforcing laws and structures. Women and girls have very low social status, literacy levels, restricted roles in public life, no leadership roles in the clan structure and restricted ownership of livestock. For this reason, Amref’s project BE4WE – BE proactive actors for Women Empowerment and Gender Equality in Kenya, works towards enabling and enhancing CSOs to engage as efficient and proactive actors of governance and development. This will be achieved through building CSOs capacities in order to strengthen women’s participation in decision-making as well as building CSOs capacities in addressing GBV and harmful practices (FGM and CEFM) and mitigating their adverse effects on women and girls in Marsabit and Samburu Counties.
Their participation will ensure the untapped potential in women and girls is unearthed and ideas fully engaged to assure communities, institutions that available resources are used, and authority exercised according to appropriate procedures, professional standards, and societal values. A human rights-based approach will be embedded in all activities.
The project is funded by European Commission – EU Delegation in Kenya and will benefit 32,500 women of reproductive age, 25,250 men, 26,700 girls in and out of school, 16,750 boys in and out of school, 7,500 pupils and students, 202,500 community members directly, and 200,000 community members indirectly. The action sees a solid partnership between Amref, Amref Kenya, KEWOPA (Kenya Women Parliamentarians) which is a membership organization of all women Parliamentarians in Kenya, ENA (Echo Network Africa) and KNCCI.
In addition, throughout this period, several activities are being implemented, ranging from community dialogue, radio talk shows and training of champions. One example of a far-reaching activity has been the radio talk show in which the Samburu East Sub County Children’s officer was the guest. Several issues were discussed, ranging from children rights, the status of child protection in Samburu County, harmful cultural practices, and the value of the girl. At the same time, Amref trained 40 champions on various forms of GBV. Amongst these are elders, women, male, and female youth. The latter gave a commitment to ending Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) and are ready to come together to hold declarations for the abandonment of the same.
Photo credit: Myriam Fossellini