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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Kenyans narrate sad tales on how COVID-19 has affected them

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Over 10,000 women, girls and boys affected by Covid-19 and other emergencies in urban and rural locations have benefited from this intervention

The Covid-19 pandemic has occasioned unprecedented deprivation among women and girls whose pre-existing vulnerabilities as a result of discrimination and marginalization have deepened.

They have lost jobs and businesses, delivered babies in situations that put their lives at risk, and suffered in homes expected to be their bastions of safety. Many cannot afford sanitary wear to safeguard their human dignity.     

Beatrice Akinyi, a 34-year-old mother of two living at the heart of the Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi City, says her income has been hit hard. For her, the bottom fell out with the onset of Covid-19.  She since then been in an endless spiral into the abyss of gloom and uncertainty. She’s living from hand to mouth; her own health and hygiene are no longer a priority.

“Times are tough here. My parents are struggling to put food on the table. It is sometimes difficult to ask for sanitary towels especially if you are more than one girl in the family,” says Maureen Njoki, a high school teenager living in the same Kibera informal settlement.

UNFPA has collaborated with the State Department for Gender and humanitarian organizations like the Kenya Red Cross Society to alleviate the plight of women and girls like Beatrice and Njoki through the provision of dignity kits.

Over 10,000 women, girls and boys affected by Covid-19 and other emergencies like the recent floods in urban and rural locations have benefitted from this intervention that restores dignity and self-esteem. Through partnership and collaboration with This-Ability, an organization that advocates for the rights and well-being of women and girls with disabilities, UNFPA distributed 200 dignity kits in the month of July 2020 to this specific vulnerable group.

A typical dignity kit has items such as soap, sanitary pads, panties, wrapper, slippers, body oil, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, torch and bag. To make the kits Covid-19 responsive, UNFPA has included masks and sanitizers in the contents. Boys and vulnerable men receive dignity kits specific to their needs.

Emergencies increase sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls, including susceptibility to gender-based violence and harmful practices. Covid-19 has amplified household poverty and disrupted supply pathways for essential commodities. Access to dignity kits, therefore, allows women and girls to surmount both the economic strain and logistical nightmare associated with Covid-19.

Florence Akinyi in Makadara, Nairobi City, was visibly elated upon receiving her dignity kit. She says she has been using pieces of old cotton cloth during menses especially when Covid-19 eroded her sources of income. Being issued with dignity kits will now allow her to accrue savings and recover the capacity to purchase them on her own. Akinyi adds that the torch is essential for safety especially in the poorly lit sections of her Makadara residential area.

Kimante, a boy living in a camp for internally displaced persons in Baringo County as a result of floods and displacement caused by the rising waters of Lake Baringo was equally elated upon receiving his dignity kit.

“We would get food and other non-food items like utensils but we have never received items like a torch, toothpaste, slippers, toothbrush, soap, underclothes and a bag. We sleep on a bare floor inside the Loropil Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre and at times we encounter snakes. This torch is of great importance. I will be able to use it to access the toilet at night. We are happy and see the hope at the moment. I am looking forward to using my school bag when schools finally reopen,” he expressed his joy.

The Basic Education Act (2013) and the Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy (2020) stipulate the provision of sanitary pads to school going girls by the Government. This has however been hampered by the closure of schools as a Covid-19 infection prevention and control measure and the general dearth in resources. UNFPA’s remedy couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The dignity kits from UNFPA for vulnerable girls who are now at home due to Covid-19 have brought them so much joy, it melts my heart. Health and dignity to a girl is very important,” observed the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Public Service and Gender Hon. Racheal Shebesh. She was speaking in Taita Taveta County where she distributed the kits to adolescent girls facing the amplified risk of FGM and child marriage.

UNFPA Country Representative, Dr. Ademola Olajide, observes that in these difficult times, families, especially those in the informal settlements, may have had to make tough choices in regards to their priorities and expenditures, which unfortunately excludes the hygiene needs of women and girls.

“As we have noted, periods do not end in pandemics and human dignity is not suspended. We have today partnered with government in providing the dignity kits to our girls in the informal communities to cushion them in this difficult time,” Dr. Ademola stressed during a function where he handed over 1,500 dignity kits and household supplies to the Ministry of Public Service and Gender for distribution to women and girls in Nairobi’s informal settlements.

An estimated 1.2 million women and girls in Kenya who fall within the reproductive ages are in dire need of sanitary wear to strengthen resilience in the face of the multiple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This would cost approximately USD48 million. The gap in meeting this need is a critical factor in predicting the story of women and girls when the world declares triumph over Covid-19. Let the petals fall in dignity.

By United Nations in Kenya

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