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Photo: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Photo: GPE/Kelley Lynch

#16dayscampaign | “Union Responses to Increased Gender-based Violence during Covid-related Lockdowns in Kenya”, by Alice Tuei (KNUT).

written by: Alice Tuei published 2020-11-25 updated 2020-11-25

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the closure of learning institutions and other measures undertaken by the Kenyan Government to prevent transmission within communities and families, cases of gender-based violence (GBV) increased drastically within the communities.

There has been an exponential increase in reported cases of abuse against children since the onset of Covid-19 in March 2020, when learning institutions were closed.  The increase in child abuse cases captured the attention of the Kenyan Cabinet, which approved an Inter-Agency Programme to prevent and respond to GBV in the context of Covid-19. 

Thousands of children, according to the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) have been abused since schools were closed. Many of those children may not return to school, and those who do, will go back with trauma that will need urgent attention.  GBV affects many aspects of an individual’s life.  It can lead to aggressive behaviour either towards others (like fighting, hurting, harming) or towards the self (self-harm and/or suicidal behaviour).

According to the GVRC’s data, from March to August 30, 2020, some 1,145 children reported to nine (9) GVRCs centres that they had experienced different forms of abuse.  This comprises 59.6% of the GBV cases reported to the Centres during the 5-month period. Sexual violence cases represented 90%, while physical violence and neglect were at 10 per cent. 

77 teenagers were reported to be pregnant, including 17 of whom have been infected with HIV. 

There is a possibility that many more children have been abused during the lockdown, but have not made any formal report or opened up to their parents. 

Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), through the EI African Women in Education Network (AWEN) sensitised 60 stakeholders in Nairobi and Mombasa and 39 union officials, including female members of the KNUT National Executive Council in August 2020.

KNUT partnered with the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) to work on ways of eliminating all forms of gender-based violence in educational institutions, and further sensitised one hundred and ten (110) Branch women representatives in October 2020.  The sensitisation sessions focussed on:

  1. Giving hope to participants;
  2. Creating awareness on how to respond to gender-based violence during the pandemic;
  3. Connecting with other stakeholders who can help and establish GBV support and response networks;
  4. Empowering union officials and teachers on how to help survivors.

KNUT engaged in a massive media campaign through a joint media brief with the GVRC on 17th September 2020 to ensure that all learners report back to school, including those who may be pregnant.

RESOURCES TEACHERS NEED

  1. Teachers and learners need psychological support;
  2. Legal support for the gender-based violence survivors;
  3. Sensitization on how to assist survivors of GBV;
  4. Financial resources for travelling, reporting, medical treatment among others.

In conclusion, KNUT continues to advocate for the Governmentto prioritise psychosocial support as an urgent aftercare learners’ protection programme when planning classes and the curriculum. Teachers are often the first people to notice deteriorating mental health among their students and to support them or encourage them to seek help.With the support of the Government and the Teachers’ Services Commission (TSC), schools will need resources to hire specialists such as psychologists that will empower teachers on the aftercare programme across the country in order to support vulnerable learners. This programme trains teachers to detect indicators that may signify that a child is going through or has gone through a traumatic experience, and other psychosocial stressors that may hinder learners from benefiting fully from education. Trained teachers can also note family dynamics during routine interactions with parents. It is high time that all stakeholders in education in Kenya come on board and join the fight to end SRGBV so that learning environments can be safe for all.