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 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
organizations (local, International, and UN Agencies).
The research was prompted by concerns raised by survivors of sexual violence, Human rights
defenders and organizations rights organizations 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 within 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 neighbors, 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 stigmatization, 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 policymakers 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 raised
prevent and protect people from sexual and other sorts of violence, and ensure there's appropriate
support for survivors.”
The research team is 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 youngsters, particularly ensuring access to alternative safe venues
when schools are shut
Implement routine data collection processes within the healthcare, police, and judicial systems to record sexual and other sorts of violence to detect offense patterns and monitor access to services.