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Cecilia Kanana

Nairobi’s slums: Women facing violence & poverty amidst the pandemic

Published on 25 November 2020

As confirmed cases of coronavirus continue to rise in Kenya, so too are the number of women and girls who are increasingly facing violence at home, especially within the poorest and most vulnerable communities.

Since the onset of the pandemic, stay-at-home orders were issued for three months and a ban on movement in and out of Kenya's capital Nairobi introduced to curb the spread of the virus, measures which left many women finding themselves cut off from much needed support services. Nationwide dusk to dawn curfews have only been recently reduced and now run between 11pm-4am each day.

In the first two weeks during which restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus were first introduced, sexual offences constituted more than one third of all reported criminal cases and there were 5,000 rape cases recorded by the Ministry of Health from mid-March to late July.  

Calls to the domestic violence helpline of Christian Aid’s local partner Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) have more than quadrupled since the pandemic began (from an average of 20 a day to 90). A similar trend has also been seen by the Kenyan government’s own helpline which recorded an up to 55 percent increase in the number of calls, with women accounting for nearly 70% of the cases. 

Christian Aid have heard from one survivor of domestic abuse from a slum in Nairobi, about how she and her children had to seek temporary refuge for two months following constant abuse from her husband, which worsened during the pandemic after he received a pay cut that left the family barely able to afford food and rent. 

Sadly, her story of increased abuse and monetary hardship is not an unfamiliar one amongst women and girls living in the slums of Nairobi during the pandemic. 

In the run up to this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, Christian Aid heard from some survivors being supported by CREAW to rebuild their lives, a challenge made greater amidst a global pandemic.

Bella pictured in Kibera slum where she lives. Photo Credit: Dennis Hombe

Bella

Bella (not her real name) who lives in Kibera slum in Nairobi, has been working for four years to heal and rebuild her life and that of her children following an abusive relationship.

But little did she know that restrictions on movement and the redeployment of police trained to deal with domestic violence cases to help enforce the curfew orders would leave her having to contend with constant harassment from her estranged husband. 

“Two weeks into the lockdown in Nairobi he stormed into my house demanding to take my children away.”

Despite being able to secure restraining orders against her estranged husband with the help of CREAW, Bella was worried for her own safety and that of her children.

“I was forced to move houses to ensure that my children and I are safe. I constantly lived in fear.” 

But for Bella, the pandemic presented a double crisis. Cash in hand workers such as herself are deprived of stable income due to widespread job cuts due to coronavirus restrictions and the economic downturn. 

Before the pandemic struck, Bella was a full-time housekeeper earning 800 Kenyan shillings a day. Since the pandemic, she now works only two days a week, making the equivalent of just over €12.40, a 71 percent loss in earnings.  

“Having three meals a day and paying for water and medical care for my three children has been a challenge,” says Bella who has to weigh up the choice of having consistent meals and being able to afford supplies such as masks, sanitizers, soap and water to help her and her children keep safe from coronavirus.

Diane

Like Bella, Diane (also not her real name), another survivor of domestic abuse living in Kibera slum in Nairobi and who is now separated from her abusive husband, also faced similar challenges in supporting herself and her young son.

Diane pictured running her sandal business which she was able to re-open thanks to a cash grant she received from Christian Aid’s local partner CREAW. Photo Credit: Dennis Hombe.

“Everything here revolves around money. You need money to get water and to use the washrooms. Without money, life is hard,”

Now Diane only earns around a fifth of what she had done before the pandemic from the sale of plastic sandals, and some days goes without making a sale at all.

“Nowadays, we just have one meal per day and it’s not by choice. It’s all we can afford,” says Diane.

Following temporary closure during the pandemic, Diane was able to reopen her business after receiving a grant from CREAW. 

With the pandemic disrupting access to domestic abuse support services, CREAW, with support from Christian Aid, adapted its activities during the coronavirus emergency to help ensure women and girls who are living in slums and who have survived domestic abuse receive much needed support and begin to recover.  

This includes emotional and social support to help survivors to heal from traumatic experiences and build self-esteem, livelihood skills training to help them to find work and rebuild their lives and by providing cash grants to shelters to help them to provide survivors with food, clothes and sanitary items. 

CREAW also provides monthly cash grants directly to survivors themselves as well as to women and girls from vulnerable families living in the slums to help them to pay rent, buy food and water, as well as cover the cost of medical expenses and support their businesses. Legal aid is also provided to survivors to help them secure restraining orders against abusers as well as initiate and follow court proceedings virtually.  

These support services made a real difference to the lives of Bella and Diane during the pandemic and continue to be a lifeline for many more women in need of help during their darkest hour.

Help Christian Aid continue to support women like Bella and Diane today.

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