The Covid-19 pandemic has caused great havoc and disruptions not to mention the social and economic upheavals across the world. In Kenya, to stem its spread, schools, religious institutions and businesses were closed abruptly while curfews and lockdowns were imposed. The resultant effect of this was massive job losses, loss of livelihoods, economic constraints, increased poverty and unattended adolescents as parents struggled to make ends meet. A notable spike in Gender Based Violence (GBV) and in particular Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) directed to girls and women who are more vulnerable to exploitation was evident.
Nyeri County experienced a similar upsurge in GBV cases, with most of them going unreported. The number of teenage pregnancies escalated mostly due to sexual violence. Girls between the ages of 12-18 years were the most affected as many of them got pregnant as a result of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and also out of curiosity (as is the case with all adolescents) and idleness.
The outcome threatened their future in education and economic well-being. The county has over 500 reported cases of teenage pregnancies during the COVID-19 pandemic while the youngest reported case of defilement was a 4 month old infant.
As such, the County Government of Nyeri through the Department of Gender, Youth & Social Services started an initiative in July 2020 dubbed ‘A better tomorrow for teenage mothers and SGBV victims’ which sought to address the challenges of teenage pregnancies, teenage mothers as well as victims of SGBV from poor backgrounds. Most of these teenage girls and young women were victims of SGBV before, during or after Covid -19 lock downs from all the eight sub-counties of Nyeri County.
For this noble initiative, the County Government of Nyeri under the leadership of H.E Governor Mutahi Kahiga scored another first by winning the National Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Award. This award was announced by the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, in recognition of the county’s outstanding achievement and contribution in advancing the gender equality and women empowerment agenda.
In close collaboration with the National Government, the department identifies these girls and their guardians or parents. Later, it holds sensitization, empowerment forums, psychosocial support, counseling sessions with the girls and their parents and supports them with food and non-food items like dignity kits envisioned to last them for over six months, support with mama care packs among others.
The initiative also received support from other stakeholders such as AMREF Health, UN Women, Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), Ministry of Education, Department of Health, State Department of Gender, State Department of Youth, the Judiciary, the Civil Society, CITAM church and other Religious leaders.
Key activities included the following:
- Data collection of the pregnant teenagers, teenage mothers and victims of SGBV. This was done with support of the Deputy County Commissioners in the sub- counties, the administration, Community Health Volunteers, GBV champions among other stakeholders.
- Tuandamane forums: these are Sensitization and Mentorship forums aimed at encouraging the girls and young women by restoring hope into their lives while counseling and encouraging them to accept to go back to school. During these sessions the girls are accompanied by their parents or guardians who are also counseled and encouraged to support the girls and their babies they have delivered and look after their grandchildren as their daughters went back to school. Four sub-county forums have so far been held bringing together close to 200 girls who had either delivered or were pregnant and a further four forums are planned during the April holiday targeting the remaining unreached girls.
- Creation of local social peer to peer support groups for girls who are linked to the nearby health facilities for psycho-social support and medical reviews. These support groups are also set to be meeting during school holidays.
- Economic empowerment of the girls and their parents/ guardians through training on various forms of economic empowerment which includes soap and mat making among others.
- Twenty seven pregnant and teenage mothers, SGBV survivors from very vulnerable homes were selected and are set to benefit with Ksh 20,000 each being payment of their school fees. This is in partnership with AMREF Health who donated Ksh 540,000.00 towards the cause.
- Distribution of food and non-food items during the sensitization forums in support of the vulnerable families.
- Distribution of sanitary towels to over 4000 girls and women who are victims or are at high risk of experiencing GBV. This was during the commemoration of the ‘16 days of activism against GBV’ held from 25th November to 10th December 2020. These girls were also sensitized on various forms of GBV, prevention, menstrual hygiene etc during the distribution each received over six months of supplies. They were encouraged on “Masomo kwanza” and “ending teenage pregnancies. “
- Training of 30 Gender Based Violence (GBV) champions at the community level.
- Negotiation and Lobbying for the establishment of a county-run safe house for GBV survivors from Amref health to support victims of Gender Based Violence in the County.
- Drafting the Nyeri County Gender Policy to guide in gender mainstreaming activities in the County.
- Wheels for life program in partnership with Amref health and department of health. This program is aimed at supporting pregnant women who would experience pregnancy related emergencies at night during curfew hours by offering free transport into a health facility.
- Advocating for justice for the victims through partnership with the judiciary
Impact of the Innovation on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment
- Many of the pregnant girls went back to school to complete their education giving them an equal chance as their male counterparts hence promoting Gender equality.
- The parents who were adamant about taking care of their grandchildren as their daughters went back to school agreed to support their daughters.
- Increased awareness of various forms and harmful effects of GBV among the women and girls with emphasis on prevention of GBV in Nyeri County.
- Increased reporting of GBV cases in the county’s rescue center, the police gender desk, through the GBV champions. This is due to the sensitization and encouraging the victims to speak out and speak up against GBV.
- Promotion of economic empowerment through soap and mat making which can be used as an income generating activity.
- Reduced mortality rate of pregnant mothers and newborns through the wheels for life program.
- Decrease in the number of girls who miss classes due to lack of sanitary towels during menstruation.
- Continuous mentorship for the girls and young women through the formation of peer to peer support groups.
- Promotion of Gender Responsive Services through drafting of the Nyeri County Gender Policy to ensure that all departments in the County incorporate gender issues into their activities and programs legislating on gender issues and women leadership. Increased collaboration with the county assembly.
- Promotion of Women leadership and Decision making by training the 30 GBV champions to assist in identification and reporting of GBV cases at the community level, and also in mentorship of girls and women in the Nyeri County.
- Creation of synergy and strengthened partnerships with other policy makers, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, religious leaders, the judiciary and other key stakeholders in creating awareness on the need to end this global pandemic of GBV and also of teenage pregnancies.
- Training of GBV champions has increased awareness on prevention, control and referral for management of GBV.
- Increased timely referrals of cases for justice due to the efforts of the duty bearers and expedition of criminal justice in addressing SGBV incidences to ensure accountability for perpetrators and justice and safety of survivors.
- Decrease in cases of fear of being believed, ridiculed or stigmatized on GBV reporting hence
• More GBV victims are more bold in telling their stories, giving hope and encouragement to other victims.