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May 2020

COVID-19 pandemic increasing risk of violence against women and children at home

As the COVID-19 pandemic incidence continues to rise exponentially globally burdening public health systems, governments are giving strict directives to curb the rise in infections and deaths.ย Kenya has adopted strict measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 to be adhered to by all.

These measures are the dusk-to-dawn curfews, social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine, cities lockdown restricting movement in and out of the COVID-19 hotspot cities, work-from-home and stay-at-home orders, and school closures which reduce our day-to-day contact with other people and restrict out movement. Additionally, public spaces such as restaurants, cinemas, recreational spaces such as sports clubs, gyms have been shut to allow us to practice effective social distancing and less face-to-face interactions. This has even gone as far as limiting the number of persons in all means of transport means (public and private).

As much as these measures are necessary in the curbing spread of COVID-19 cases, they do have an impact on our women, girls, and children at home. Consequences of COVID-19 at the family level are undue stress, tension due to loss of livelihoods, economic insecurity, and job losses. Lockdowns have disrupted families across the cities implemented. School closures have disrupted learning forcing millions of learners to go back home.

Nonetheless, the government expects all to obey the stay-at-home orders, lockdowns and curfews. As we follow the government recommendations, the message passed is the home is the safest place for you, to prevent the acquisition of the COVID 19.

But is the home the safest place for everyone?

As stay-at-home orders expand to contain the spread of the virus, statements issued by WHO indicate from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shows there has been an exponential increase in the number of cases violence against children and domestic violence women reported globally. Kenya follows this trend too; as we battle the coronavirus pandemic, the Kenya Health ministry has reported a sharp rise in domestic violence. The National Council for the Administration of Justice recently reported there has been an increase in the cases of domestic, gender-based and sexual violence perpetrated by close relatives and guardians.

How?

National Council for the Administration of Justice has reported that in some of the cases reported, the perpetrators are close relatives, guardians and/or persons living with the victims. In this period, the support system that the survivors or those at risk relied on are now not accessible. The services within the community or other neighbourhoods are now not accessible for life-saving post violence and or sexual reproductive health services. Also, the dusk to dawn curfew means if any violence episodes fall between 7 pm and 5 am, the survivor would not be able to seek services in those hours. Again, recent news and Human Rights Watch reports show that police are using excessive force and perpetrating violence on unsuspecting citizens, which would restrict the movement of a survivor seeking much-needed post violence services during curfew hours.

All these experiences of violence within the home or neighbourhood and limited access to post violence means all those who experience sexual violence are at a higher risk of other health conditions such as chronic pain, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, unintended pregnancies and mental health disorders.

The home is turning out not to be the safest option for some.

It is the stateโ€™s task to protect its citizens, including women and girls against violence. The 2010 Constitution of Kenya is very clear on violence prevention. Article 29 (c) of the Kenyan Constitution provides that every person has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be subjected to any form of violence from either public or private sources. Article 45 of the Kenyan Constitution (2010) recognizes and protects the family institution recognizing it as the natural and fundamental unit of society and the necessary basis of social order. As the government responds to COVID-19, GBV prevention and response measures need to be integrated into the COVID response plans urgently.

The GBV in COVID-19 pandemic response requires adaptation of ordinary implementation strategies at the community level, to make the homes safer or provide response mechanisms accessible to VAWG. See below propositions, to protect children women and girls as we #stayhome during this COVID pandemic.

As daily briefings on the spread of the COVID-19 are made, public awareness and sensitisations should be conducted to highlight the risk of VAWG/C and information on services available for services, marking the post violence services as essential and lifesaving.

Violence against women and girls is never justifiable, notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic period.

By Anne Ngunjiri โ€“ Gakuya is the Senior Technical Advisor โ€“ Gender-Based Violence, and Violence against Children Programs, LVCT Health

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