Women, Girls at Greater Risk of Intimate Partner Violence, FGM and Forced Marriage as Socioeconomic Effects of COVID-19 Persist

by Amref Health Africa

Studies by Amref Health Africa call for innovative approaches such as empowerment of Community Health Volunteers to ensure at-risk women, girls are protected during the pandemic and beyond

Nairobi, July 19th, 2021: 1 in 3 Ugandans, 1 in 5 Kenyans and 1 in 10 Senegalese reported increased intimate partner violence in the past year, pointing to the impact of COVID-19 on the safety and wellbeing of women especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

According to a study by Amref Health Africa in Kenya, Uganda and Senegal, titled “A Multi-Country Situation Assessment of Community Health Workers’ Preparedness to Support Health System Response to Prevention and Management of COVID-19 and Associated Gender Based Violence”, 23% of respondents in the 3 countries reported experiencing gender-based violence (GBV) at the hands of their partners, with 84% saying the violence increased in frequency during the pandemic and 87.5% of respondents saying they were abused 1-3 times a week.

Victims attributed the increase in aggression to frustration caused by loss of employment and income during the pandemic, noting that the abuse was mostly in the form of physical and verbal abuse (51.4%), lack of communication (51.4%), denial of money and basic needs (33.3%) and denial of conjugal rights (16.7%). Further, 12.5% of respondents said the violence entailed rape and sexual assault.

The study also revealed that victims often sought assistance from close relatives, with 27% of respondents saying they tried to resolve domestic disputes by turning to their parents while 11% and 10% said they sought help from Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and the police respectively.

The data unearths the severity of the social and economic consequences of the pandemic particularly on lower income households living on less than US$100 a month, which continue to bear the brunt of COVID-19 mitigation measures including travel restrictions, curfew and physical distancing.

“COVID-19 has increased the vulnerability of girls and women to gender-based violence (GBV), child, early and forced marriage (CEFM), and female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). Health and social systems need to fully engage the services of community health workers (CHWs), and to understand their capacities and challenges to empower them to respond to the pandemic and its associated consequences on families, especially at-risk girls and young women,” said Dr. Tammary Esho, Director, End FGM/C Centre of Excellence during the launch of the study.

A related study aimed at generating evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on FGM/C and CEFM in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal cites a notable increase in cases of both practices, especially in Kenya and Uganda.  

The study carried out by Amref Health Africa, titled Evidence on the Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and Child, Early and Forced Marriages: The Case of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal”, cites prolonged closure of schools and loss of employment and income as key drivers of these harmful practices in the period since the onset of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has been linked to early marriage in several African countries, with 1 in 3 respondents from this study reporting that girls were married early due to financial challenges. In Uganda for example, the most common reason given for the increase in the number of CEFM cases was economic losses due to COVID-19. In Kenya, 1 in 4 respondents reported marrying off their daughters because the girls’ age mates got married and they (parents and guardians) did not want their children to be left behind, while in Senegal 1 in 2 cited prevention of pregnancy out of wedlock and the resultant shame it would bring upon the families as the main reason for early marriage.

“The findings from Kenya show 1 in 10 girls have been subjected to FGM/C and that the practice increased during the pandemic. While there is limited quantitative data on the effect of the pandemic on harmful traditional practices such as FGM/C and CEFM, there is anecdotal evidence to support our claims that COVID-19 has increased the likelihood of girls and young women undergoing these practices,” said Dr. Tonny Kapsandui, Program Manager, RMNCAH, Amref in Uganda. “Across the four countries, the pandemic has negatively affected implementation of interventions by the justice and legal system, health system, and civil societies, which could explain why there has been an increase in the practice during the period under review.”

The two studies recommend a raft of interventions that can be implemented to protect girls and women from FGM, CEFM and GBV, including: enhancing outreach efforts targeting FGM/C and CEFM by engaging local champions, influential community leaders and Community Health Volunteers (CHVs); strengthening relevant government ministries and agencies to enforce prevention of FGM/C and CEFM; exploring flexible funding mechanisms to sustain FGM/C and CEFM programmes during the pandemic and integrating GBV, FGM/C and CEFM programming into longer-term pandemic preparedness plans.

Other proposed measures include: development of economic empowerment initiatives and social safety net programmes targeting vulnerable households in FGM/C and CEFM prevalent areas; utilizing informal, online and mobile platforms to reach and safeguard at-risk women and girls; and development of policies on recruitment, training, remuneration and empowerment of CHVs, among others.


Notes to Editors

About Amref Health Africa

Amref Health Africa, headquartered in Kenya, is the largest Africa-based International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO). With a focus on increasing sustainable health access, Amref runs programmes in over 35 countries in Africa, with lessons learnt over 60 years of engagement with governments, communities and partners. Amref Health Africa also engages in programme development, fundraising, partnership, advocacy, monitoring and evaluation, and has offices in Europe and North America as well as subsidiaries: Amref Flying Doctors, Amref Enterprises and the Amref International University.

For more information contact:

Elizabeth (Lizz) Ntonjira
Global Communication Director
Amref Health Africa
Email:[email protected]

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