Kenyan government must tackle pandemic-related sexual and domestic violence

Urgent action is needed to protect women and girls in Kenya from increased sexual and domestic violence in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, say researchers at the University of Birmingham.

The team investigated ways in which the pandemic has heightened the risk of violence across the whole population in Kenya. Factors include a lack of access to alternative safe venues following school closures, increased tensions within households and social isolation.

A report on the findings is being presented to the Kenya’s GBV Gender Sector Working Group, which is convened by the State Department of Gender under the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender. The working group consists of more than 80 members representing various organisations (local, International and UN Agencies).

The research was prompted by concerns raised by survivors of sexual violence, Human rights defenders and organisations rights organisations that the COVID-19 crisis has both increased women’s and girl’s vulnerability to violence and also prevented their access to life-saving services.

Between March and June 2020, the researchers interviewed 80 survivors of violence in the country, including 29 children under the age of 18. They found that emergency measures such as school closures may have made children particularly vulnerable to offenses committed by ‘non-strangers’, such as neighbours, during the daytime.

The researchers also found that increasingly younger children were being targeted, with survivors having an average age of 12 years old, compared to a national average of 16 before the pandemic according to the most recent Kenyan Demographic Health Survey.

While the threat of violence has increased, many women and girls are less able to get help because of the stigmatisation, threats and further violence they face when trying to report incidents to the police and access medical care. The team found that women are more likely to remain in dangerous situations because they fear reprisals and are also destitute.

Lead researcher, Dr Heather Flowe , from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, said: “We are urging policy makers to take action now to prevent further harm to women and girls in Kenya who find themselves in incredibly dangerous and vulnerable situations. These measures are necessary and urgent.

“There is a dire need for ongoing real-time documentation of incidents by the government. This would help identify geographic clusters of cases and serial perpetrators. This would enable Kenya to better prevent and protect people from sexual and other forms of violence, and ensure there is appropriate support for survivors.’

The research team are calling on the Kenyan government to take action to better protect women and girls from attacks. Their recommendations include:

  • Ensuring the national COVID-19 recovery strategy includes comprehensive protection and prevention plans for sexual and gender-based violence
  • Give high priority to the protection of children, particularly ensuring access to alternative safe venues when schools are shut
  • Implement routine data collection processes in the healthcare, police and judicial systems to record sexual and other forms of violence to detect offense patterns and monitor access to services.

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