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Kenya Activists Fear Spike in Violence Against Women During Coronavirus

NAIROBI - Rights activists in Kenya have raised alarm after indications that gender-based-violence may be on the rise with restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus. The East African country has more than 280 reported cases of COVID-19 so far, and at least 14 deaths.

Community organizer Jane Anyango, 48, has for years documented cases of gender-based violence in Nairobi’s Kibera neighborhood, Africa’s largest urban slum.

But, since Kenya announced restrictions on movements over coronavirus, she says the number of reported cases has increased.

Two weeks ago, a 13-year-old girl called Anyango when her parents started to physically fight.

“We got the report from a child which was really sad — that there is no peace in their home. That is why to me this is very unique because mothers and fathers fight but, when it bothers the children, it’s more than what people should take. And then with the curfew, most conflicts are happening in the night or late in the evening so the kids cannot even run out,” said Anyango.

Kenya in March imposed a nationwide nighttime curfew and restrictions on public gatherings and transportation.

Schools went to remote learning and many people began working from home.

However, Kenyans who rely on a daily wage in markets or through manual labor suddenly found themselves struggling to put food on the table, as shops closed down and economic activity came to a halt.

Wangechi Wachira, the director of the Kenyan feminist Center for Rights Education and Awareness, says the Center has seen an increase in reported cases of violence against women.

“In our office, in a day, we receive between three to seven cases and these are cases where someone walks into the office or someone makes a call," she said. "But within this period, we have seen those numbers go up. Just last week we had about an increase from seven cases to between 10 to 12.”

Agnes Odhiambo , a researcher on sub-Saharan Africa with the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch, says that during coronavirus restrictions, a large spike in violence against women is almost certain.

“Gender based violence or violence happens mainly for two issues. One is an issue of power and control, and two, is an issue of inequality," she said. "Now this is the situation that COVID has created where people are behind closed doors, there is no money. It’s a perfect environment for people who are abusive to even be more abusive or even for those who are usually not abusive to become abusive because of that stress, where they feel they need to exert their dominance in an environment where they are feeling kind of emasculated.”

Rights groups say until coronavirus restrictions are relaxed, cases of gender-based violence in Kenya will only rise.

They also note that when so many people remain behind closed doors, most of the violence will go unreported.

This article was originally published in Voice of America.


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