By: Joseph Gicheru.
September 24, 2020
At the beginning of last month, I covered a story of Grace, (not her real name) from Thika slums of Kiandutu in Kiambu County who is a mother of three and didn’t want to disclose her identity. They all live in a small single room and the husband is the sole provider of the household as she takes care of the children. Due to the increased rate of the spread of COVID-19, several measures were put in place, one of them being the imposing of a countrywide night-to-dawn curfew and closure of all clubs in the country. As a result, her husband who was a security guard at one of the clubs in Thika town lost his job. Since then Grace had had tough times as a small difference between her and her husband would cause serious violence which left her with evident wounds. Grace who shared this story with tears said that a week cannot end without a fight from her husband who has no income and spends most of his time in the house. They have been lucky to receive relief food from well-wishers and non-profit organizations and this has sustained them for a couple of days. Having three meals a day has been a problem and this replicated in a number of households in Kiandutu slum.
“My husband beats me almost daily in front of my children but I have to persevere the pain for the sake of my children’s welfare,” she said.
Having no known source of income, it was really hard for her to leave her husband and live by herself. She said that before coronavirus, her husband was not violent until when he lost his job. She hopes that after all is back to normal, her husband will get back to his job and peace will prevail in her family.
“A virtuous woman perseveres in tough times and prays that God will fight all her battles, even when it hurts most,” she added.
Her three children who are always at the mercy of their mother but with no power to do anything sounded optimistic that at one time, this will be a thing of the past.
Grace’s firstborn, Kennedy, (not his real name) who is in class 6 believed that coronavirus has come to divide their family.
“Since my dad lost his job, he has always been violent, and nowadays fighting has been a new norm in our family. I never thought my dad can do what he does nowadays but I believe after coronavirus is over, all will be well again,” he said in agony.
With the increase of the COVID-19 infections in Kenya, more measures were put in place to counter contracting and spreading of the disease, one of them being families to stay at home and practice social distancing. Schools have been closed for more than six months now meaning Grace’s children who are currently in primary school and highly depend on school feeding programs barely have anything to feed on. To make things worse, women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence increases as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rampage.
Grace feels that the Kenyan government is yet to effect a couple of regulations set forth to empower women and claims that this can be a solution to gender-based violence. "I wish Kenyan leaders can realize the pain some of us go through as women who are not well up and have to always beg for upkeep, for them to actualize regulations put in place for women empowerment," She said. "The right to live free from violence is a basic human right and the government should listen to stories like mine and always take action. I'm saying this because I know many women in this slum who are facing more violence than I am and can't get the courage of sharing like I am," she added.
Grace’s husband has been a victim of the COVID-19 restrictions and even with clubs having been reopened, many who were dependent on the sector didn't reclaim their jobs costing their livelihood. This reciprocates to violence in the homes, Grace being a victim.
Grace’s story raises a lot of questions in my mind, the following two being my major point of interest: How many women and girls are living with an abusive partner or a family member? How many women have the power to say enough is enough to this vice and have their lives run as normal and do they have the capacity to do so?
Unicef Kenya has been at the forefront in raising alarm in the rising cases of gender-based violence in Kenya amind COVID-19. They reiterated that the rise in the reported cases of gender-based violence amind COVID-19 has been catalyzed by a number of factors, financial hardship due to restriction of movement and imposing of the curfew being one of them. Also, confinement at homes and uncertainties produce stressful environments that precipitate violence.
Also, Equality Now has joined hands with different organizations such as FIDA – Kenya, Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), GROOTS Kenya, calling for action to safeguard women and girls from gender-based violence which has been on the rise during this pandemic.
During this pandemic, the world’s attention has shifted to COVID-19 and gender-based violence has been on the rise. Gender equality is not only a Kenyan priority but also a global priority and this fight should never be sidelined.