OPINION: GBV survivors and those at risk should be considered when setting up policies for social protection

The third wave of COVID-19 has hit Kenyans hard with the effects of the pandemic getting worse by the day.

Ministry of Health officials recently sounded the alarm over spiralling infections with the positivity rate in March 2021 turning out to be the highest since the first case was reported a year ago.

And according to a COVID-19 Gender Assessment Report released in December last year, the pandemic has disproportionately affected more women and girls than men and boys.

The study found that incomes for female-headed households declined while the majority of women particularly those working in urban areas informal sector lost their jobs; more women than men have had to either eat less or skip a meal; unpaid care work has increased for women more than men; women are walking for longer distances to fetch water and collect firewood; and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) increased at the onset of COVID-19 due to restrictions in movement.

Researchers and human rights groups anticipated that the COVID-19 pandemic would exacerbate GBV and consequently poverty, especially among female headed households which constitute (30.2%) of the poor population in the country.

A policy brief titled Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Kenya by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) affirmed that women face greater economic vulnerability as their labour participation is often highly informal, without social protection.

“The COVID-19 pandemic can worsen the already high prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) due to greater economic stress in households in times of crisis coupled with increased social isolation,” the report published in 2020 reads.

There has been a massive loss of jobs and incomes as a result of measures intended to combat the spread of COVID-19 such as cessation of movement, curfew, closure of schools, ban on public gatherings, shutdown of bars and no eating inside restaurants.

And as was predicted, calls to helplines surged more than 10-fold since the said lockdown measures were imposed in late March last year. Reuters reported that the national GBV helpline supported by the Department of Gender Affairs received 1,108 calls in June compared to 86 in February last year.

Family’s breadwinner

Mary* is a GBV survivor who lives in Mombasa with her two sons–Eriky and Nik. She is the family’s breadwinner. She cooks and sells viazi karai (potato snack) to make a living. Before the COVID-19 restrictions, she would finish selling the viazi karai at 9pm but with the curfew in place she has to ensure she has closed her stall by 6pm.


When business was good, Mary* says she would get a profit of Ksh.150-200 ($1.37-1.82) a day but with the reduced hours she says: “Saa zingine nafanya kazi lakini sipati kitu. Napata tu ile kidogo ya kuenda sokoni. Saa zingine pia nashindwa na kuenda sokoni kwa hivyo sifanyi kazi (Sometimes I work but don’t get any profit; I only make enough money to go back to the market. Sometimes I don’t even make enough to buy potatoes to cook so I can’t work)”.

The story is the same for 47-year-old Binti* a GBV survivor who lives with her three children in Mombasa. The children are aged between 9-22 and enrolled in primary and secondary school as well as college. She sells viazi karai, mahamri, chapati and beans to provide for their daily needs. Binti* used to work mostly in the evening, targeting people who are leaving work at 5am and want to eat a meal by the roadside or carry it home with them.

However, with the curfew in place, she no longer has a dependable source of income. She says: “Curfew imeathiri sana biashara yangu kwasababu mimi huwa naanza kazi saa kumi na moja. Ikifika saa kumi na moja na nusu inabidi ni make sure nimeweka vitu ndani. Nisipofanya hivyo napatikana na maaskari na nina maswali ya kujibu. Ikawa sasa inabidi niwe nauza chakula kwa nyumba. Nikisikia polisi hapo nyuma naregesha mlango. Taa nazima. Mwenye anakuja namuuzia chakula kwenye giza. Biashara ikaharibika kabisa (Curfew has really affected my business because I would usually start selling food at 5pm. But now with the curfew I have to make sure that by 5:30pm I have stopped selling. If I don’t do that the police will find me here and I will have questions to answer. I was forced to start selling food from my house and when I hear police officers are around I close my door and switch off the lights. Whoever comes looking to buy food I sell to them in the dark. My business has been badly affected.”

63-year-old Zeina Njuguna says she started selling chapati and beans to make a living in 1988 and it is through this business that she managed to take her five children through school after her husband died. When COVID-19 hit the country, Zeina says her business took a hit for the first time in many years.

Kabla corona haijatokea nilikuwa napata kama shillingi mia tano ama hata elfu moja mwisho wa mwezi. Saa hizi naweza fanya kazi na nipate pengine mia tatu au mia mbili. Hakuna kupika usiku kama nilivyokuwa nafanya kitambo kwa sababu ya curfew. Bei ya bidhaa pia imeongezeka sana. Maisha yamekuwa magumu (Before corona I would get Ksh.500-1000 but now the most I can get is Ksh.300. I can no longer sell food at night because of the curfew. Cost of foodstuffs has also increased significantly. Life has become difficult),” she said.

In November 2020, the Kenyan Government announced that beneficiaries of the Inua Jamii programme had started receiving payments after the National Treasury released Ksh. 4,366,644,000 for payment for those enrolled in the cash transfer programmes.

The government’s cash transfer program is categorised into three: Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Older Persons and Persons with Severe Disability. The released funds were for payment of the July – August 2020 payment and would be paid out to 1,091,166 cash transfer beneficiaries.

“Each of the beneficiaries will receive Ksh 4,000 to cover the July-August 2020 payment cycle and the beneficiaries or caregivers can access the payment at any time over the next six (6) months,” the Ministry said.

Development partners who complement efforts by the government to cushion vulnerable households went a step further, aiming to specifically target and reduce the vulnerability of women and girls particularly those who are survivors or at-risk of Sexual and gender Based Violence (SGBV).

Through a Ksh. 310million grant from the Danish Embassy, seven organizations — Oxfam in Kenya; the Kenyan Red Cross Society; Concern Worldwide; ACTED; IMPACT Initiatives; the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) and the Wangu Kanja Foundation — provided cash transfers to 40,000 vulnerable Kenyans living in informal settlements within Mombasa and Nairobi.

The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) program targeted 10,000 households. Households that have so far received the SGBV cash assistance grants are 2677 while those that have received general cash assistance grants are 7620. An additional 1056 households have received the Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) grants as well as training for their small-scale (mama mboga) businesses.

According to the Danish ambassador to Kenya Ole Thonke, partners such as Denmark can provide fast, flexible funding to safety net programs. “We did that already during the first COVID-19 wave in Kenya targeting vulnerable women and youth in informal settlements in Nairobi and Mombasa,” he told Citizen Digital.

The envoy explained that time was one of the challenges of the cash transfer program since many people lost their livelihoods and were unable to provide for themselves or their families.

“It was key for Denmark to partner with trusted partners who had the necessary community knowledge and setup to implement the cash transfer program via MPesa. In our case it was Oxfam, Red Cross and in close coordination with the government,” he said. “It was also a priority to collaborate with other international partners such as the European Union (EU) to scale up the efforts thereby making it a Team Europe effort.”

Mary*, Binti* and Zeina are some of the beneficiaries of the DANIDA cash transfer program which targets Kenyans who have lost their income sources due to Covid-19 and are at risk of SGBV.

There are a countless number of women in this situation and they too need to be cushioned so that they can cushion the families they provide for. They are a rising population that must be considered when government policies are set up for social protection.

The names of some of the beneficiaries have been changed to protect their identity.

The article was written by Rachel Ombaka, Digital Sub Editor at Citizen TV Kenya