Sexual and Gender based violence in the global pandemic: Exploring the experiences of women and girls with disabilities
Recorded May 8th 2020
Full Audio-Text Transcription
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Now, let’s get into today’s topic of discussion.
Lizzie: Good afternoon, everybody. We’re very pleased to be hosting the fourth episode of the PAZA Podcast. And today’s topic of conversation is Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) during COVID-1: Exploring the Experiences of Women and Girls with Disabilities, and on today’s conversation, we have amazing speakers that represent communities of women with disabilities in the counties, and I will allow them to introduce themselves. Easter, do you mind going first?
Easter: My name is Easter Achieng Oketch. I’m the Executive Director of Kenya Female Advisory Organization (KEFEADO) and we work in the western Kenya region, that’s about 14 counties in western Kenya. It’s my pleasure to be with you here today.
Lizzie: Thank you very much. Fridah?
Fridah: My name is Fridah Wawira Nyaga I work with Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW). I am the Program Officer, also the Communication Officer. I am based in a Narok but our head offices are in Nairobi. We are in six counties in Kenya where we are implementing various projects.
Lizzie: Thank you very much. And my name is Lizzie Kiama and I am the host for this podcast. I am also the Managing Trustee at This-Ability Trust where we work to advance the rights and inclusion of women with disabilities in Kenya. So, ladies, shall we get into it! Easter, could you tell us how KEFEADO works specifically around issues on sexual and gender based violence.
Easter: KEFEADO which is, Kenya Female Advisory Organization, has worked in this area of women and girls empowerment for a long time, and we use an intersection of an intergenerational approach, which means that we look across the board – who is at community level, who is a female, and how then they engage with different issues at community level. So, one of the things that we have done is that in our different programs within the schools where we work and within the communities where we work and within the different institutions we’ve worked with, we have realized that there’s been a lot of issues of gender based violence within communities and in different forms. So that different forms of Gender Based Violence which have noticed is FGM within Mt. Elgon, where we worked, and even in Kisii. And also there is high level of Sexual and Gender Based Violence which happens at community level.
One of the things we notice during this COVID period is that it has increased and the levels of violence which we are looking at, apart from just the sexual violence which is being perpetrated, we are also seeing physical violence, we are also seeing economic violence and we are also seeing a bit of the mental issues which are coming from those close issues. So mental violence, emotional violence is also being seen. So those are the issues which we are dealing with during this COVID period on how to engage with different people, and particularly with women and girls with disability who, unfortunately, are not reached out to even by the different gender based violence groups, and thus are not being addressed wholistically. Thank you.
Lizzie: Thank you, thank you, Easter. Fridah, could you possibly could you tell us how the Coalition on Violence against Women works, particularly the projects you have with women and girls with disabilities? Could you speak on that please?
Fridah: Thank you so much. Coalition on Violence against Women is a nongovernmental women rights organization that exists to champion the rights of women and girls to be free from all forms of violence. We are currently implementing two projects that are targeting intellectually challenged women and girls. The project is titled “Enhancing Access to Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence Victims with Intellectual Disability”. The project is being implemented in Kiambu, Nairobi and Narok counties has been funded by African Women Development Fund. So what we do in these projects is that we enhance public knowledge and awareness on the rights of persons with intellectual disability. Through this I mean we conduct community dialogues or community conversations about the rights of persons with intellectual disability.
The second thing that we do is we work hand in hand with the National Council to facilitate the registration of intellectually challenged women and girls in the furthest to reach community. That means that we conduct registration exercise, hand in hand with the National Council of Persons with Disability in the furthest to reach areas. Like in Narok County, whereby, it’s quite hard for persons with physical, mental disability to get to their offices, so we facilitate their movement. The third thing that we do is we provide court representation to survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence with intellectual disability. So this means that we offer pro bono services – we have a database of pro bono lawyers that we work with and in case there’s a case that has been forwarded to us involving someone with intellectual, and intellectual I mean mental disability, we’re able to offer pro bono services. We give them psychosocial support and also we give them transport to go to the court. Another thing that we have been doing in this project is that we do a lot of lobbying, especially with County Health Committee in the various counties that we are implementing so that we can lobby for an inclusive legal aid policy, sexual and gender based violence framework. Such as, in the lobbying meeting that we had in Narok, it was an advocacy meeting with the County Health Committee to lobby for exemption of medical assessment fees for intellectually challenged women and girls. Another thing that you’re doing in this project is that we sit in the Court Users Committee (CUC), where we discuss matters on enhancing access to justice for intellectually challenged women and girls. For instance, in 2019 through the Court Users Committee COVAW was able to push for an open day, a CUC legal day and also we are able to push for a Judiciary Service Week, where they prioritized 48 cases of survivors of Sexual and Gender based Violence that had been pending for quite some time. So that is basically about our projects on access to justice for girls and women with intellectual disability.
We have another project that we are about to start next week, it’s from Humanity Inclusion, it’s a seed fund and it is in response to Covid-19 pandemic. So we will be providing food package, sanitary towels, airtime, tissues, soap and masks to at least 100 families with girls and women intellectual disability. The second thing that we’ll be doing in that project is that we will be having a back messaging to general public on educating them on safety measures during Covid-19 and issues to do with prevention of sexual and gender based violence. We are currently conducting a mapping exercise of 100 families with intellectually challenged women and girls from low income earning areas in Nairobi, that is, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Dandora, Mweki, Kiandutu. So that is basically the two projects that we have that are targeting women and girls with disability.
Lizzie: Great. Thank you. Fridah. I just had a follow up question. The first project you were talking about, among other things, it also looks to create, generate knowledge and create awareness in the community. So I’m just curious, particularly in the counties that you work in, what has been the community perception of the groups of women, particularly the women and girls with intellectual disabilities? What was the existing community perception?
Fridah: The first thing that I would say is that there is a lot of stigma, discrimination towards women and girls with disabilities, especially in Maasai Land, whereby, women and girls with disability as viewed as a curse or bad omen. It’s quite sad to note that even in the most interior parts of Maasai Land, in Narok, when a woman gives birth to a child with a disability, they are stigmatized and some parents end up throwing these children in the forest. They are not dressed, they are not fed. Another issue is the communication barrier, you find that girls and women intellectual disability may not even know if they have been sexually abused, not even know how to report. And lack of family care and support, whenever an incident is reported or occurred, you find that no one believes them. This leads to frequency of occurrence, for instance, I was abused as today and even last week I was abused but when I come and share with you that I was abused no one believes these people with mental disability.
The other thing is institutional failure, you find that that even the police officers, we don’t have trained police officers, we don’t have gender desk, specifically dealing with persons with mental disability. So there’s a lot of communication barrier, stigma and discrimination. When you go to the hospital in Narok County, most of the hospitals or health facilities they don’t have a sign language interpreter. So there is a communication barrier between a person with mental disability and the health professional so you find that they are not able to access sexual and reproductive health services.
Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you. Easter, going back to what KEFEADO does around sexual and gender based violence, I just would like you to go deeper, not necessarily how COVID has increased of GBV, but what was the current situation even before COVID of women and girls with disabilities?
Easter: One of the things which we are looking at is the same thing that Fridah is saying, which is the lack of service and the lack of structures which are put in place to respond to issues of gender based violence even in the reporting structures. For example, one of the things which we are looking at is that within the referral pathway, when anybody who has a disability would go and report, because of the discrimination of women with disability, if you went to report an incidence of sexual violence, somebody perceives that maybe it was a favor because people are profiled differently.
One of the challenges is that profiling then ensures that the discrimination is never reported because of lack of access to information and access to those kinds of spaces. So one of the things which are also looking at is that within these particular spaces, when you go and report within the referral pathway, we do not have enough structures to respond. For example, if you go to the police station, and if you are having hearing impairments, do we have a sign language interpreter, they’re not often there, so you cannot report. So you have to get someone else who probably might be the perpetrator or will be at a cost to you, who is the survivor. And one of the challenges which you’re also facing is that, for example, if you go and report and you are visually impaired, when you’re writing your statement, how many how do you write your statement? How do you ensure that your statement is well recorded? And part of it is that then when you’re required to go with an aid, what if your aid is the perpetrator? We have had incidences of the police not actually recording what you’re saying as a survivor, so part of it if you’re not able to verify those statements, then it becomes a challenge. So when you need aids within those structures, then it becomes a challenge. And it becomes even worse because we have women and girls, we work with women and girls with disability from rural communities, where there are issues of even hiding them is supposedly very normal. So part of it is that even getting access to these structures where you can state what is happening is a challenge.
And we have seen increased levels of violence and in certain spaces where we are, particularly with the women and girls with intellectual disabilities, we are seeing repeated sexual violence against those particular women. In one of the cases which we are trying to handle now is where a mother is a trader, and has two girls with intellectual disability. Immediately she leaves to go for work, they are violated repeatedly, and they also have children who are also with intellectual disabilities, which means that she’s very constrained. So part of those challenges which are faced within community levels is that unfortunately, government is not really looking after the protection services for this cohort of persons, particularly women and girls with disability in the spaces wherever they are. So the challenges which we note are that we are trying to then push this agenda.
We are also part of the support by Humanity and Inclusion to look at how even to get shelters, and even when we get shelters, are the people within those shelters able to deal with the different disabilities which will go in there. So for example, the women and girls with the intellectual disability need specialized care, are they able to support? Do we have personnel within those structures who are able to support those kinds of women or girls or sometimes there are people with multiple disabilities, who are able to support them within these particular spaces? Because apart from the households where we see and the areas where these things happen, we have also noticed because we work in institutions where we have children with disability. And we also notice that learning institutions are also spaces where there’s a lot of sexual violence against women and girls with disability. So one of the things we are saying is that the structures which are in place do not wholistically protect women and girls with disability from violations. Even in terms of seeking social justice; because in terms of social justice, people tend to think about asexuality so you will not be believed so easily.
Part of it is the bit of where we are talking about the sexual rights of women and girls with disability, people think that you deserve it or you somebody did you a favor, which is a violation of the rights. So the social justice issues which come at community level, and then the legal justice processes. Now, in terms of getting access to justice, even within the court of law, it takes a lot of time. One of the challenges which we face is that some of the girls and women who come from very poor background, so the economic issues, then constrain them from attending court processes. And because you have to keep on travelling to that particular court process, as in your come from a poor background, then you are also constrained within the spaces. So a whole myriad of things which then shows, one is the social discrimination at community level, where the economic issues which then predispose some of these women and girls to the challenges that they’re facing. The issue of the social discrimination, and then the areas where then patriarchy then happens, apart from that issue of that one is that we have also seen that, apart from the sexual violence, early marriages are also done. Because in our spaces where there’s the issue of wife inheritance, there will always look for a girl with disability to be the one who is inherited. So part of it is also the rights on issues of early marriage and the marital rape which is faced within those particular places. So there are many challenges which need to be addressed and it is important for us to raise this issue when you’re talking about gender based violence, because one of the things which hurts me most is the invisibility of the data on the violence which is perpetrated against women and girls with disability. Within Kisumu County we are looking at the data from the Gender Based Violence Recovery Centre, and it’s silent. There’s silence on it, you can’t see that data. So it means that people are subdued so you cannot address the issues which are required even within those spaces to have sign language interpreters, to have examination beds which are commensurate to the different disabilities, like the physical disability which is needed during examination. So part of it is that we also have to talk to ourselves as people who respond to issues of gender based violence. That why do we think that data should make women and girls with disability invisible, they shouldn’t be invisible, they should be visible so that their needs are addressed.
Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you, Easter. And just to touch on what both of you spoke about, you’ve talked about invisibility, Easter, you’ve talked about invisibility which then spreads and shows itself in the lack of policy, the lack of implementation and also in our programming. But also on the other side, Fridah, you’ve talked about, you know, knowledge creation, awareness creation, I’m just wondering, at what point do we begin to see a difference because we as NGOs, as nonprofit organizations, we invest quite a bit in awareness creation and for me and maybe this is a personal fight, maybe I should stop fighting this fight. I feel like everything is rooted in the unconscious bias. We walk around on our perception of disability, you know, our experience with disability, the non disabled people and even disabled people themselves, there is this negative perception we hold very dearly. And that comes out as unconscious bias, which then magnifies the invisibility, it magnifies the lack of specific language in our policies, and also trickles down to our programming. So I’m just wondering when we are working around awareness creation, what do you think that we need to do differently in order to bridge this gap of invisibility?
Easter: My take, I think you’ve done enough awareness creation. Part of what we are looking at is that beyond just awareness, there are policy issues which we need to demand for. And it means that who is sitting in the room when the policy issues are being discussed. So in terms of for example, we have various sexual and gender based violence policy documents and who it’s supposed to target. So part of it is that the policymakers, are the duty bearers actually been to task. So, part of it is that in terms of what we are looking at is that we need to be able to start tasking duty bearers to actually listen. If you look at the history of what the women’s movement has been able to do, is to be able to put enough pressure. So are we able to start developing a movement beat, a very pulsating movement which they are asking you to bear us to actually the answer to the questions. One of the challenges which are faced is that sometimes women’s with disability organizations and individuals are also invisible within the disability movement itself. So part of it that the patriarchy within the disability movement means that women issues are subdued by other disability issues. So for example, in the response, people are not even talking about the sexual violence, people will talk about economic issues, which then targets the other gender. So part of it is that how do we rally women within the movement in the disability movement to be stronger, to capacitate them to go beyond awareness and start sitting on those particular policymaking spaces and demand. So how do we also capacitate because one of the opportunities we have, for example, we have a senator, a nominated senator who is sitting at a policy level, Hon. Danita Gati. So how do we target such persons like honorable Danita Gati, to push beyond just policy development to policy implementation? The challenges we face is that we have very nice disability policies even within the county with no implementation framework, and with no financing framework, so you have this disability board within the county and maybe at national level with no money and no other resources to be able to move. So even within the counties we need to target the disability boards and ensure that they implement the policy and ensure that the visibility of the issue of disability is actually budgeted for. Then we will ensure that we go beyond just creating awareness to implementing whatever frameworks which we really need to implement and ensure that we have activities which are targeted to alleviate the challenges which are faced particularly on the issue of gender based violence against women and girls with disability.
Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you very much. Fridah?
Fridah: In regards to the question that you have asked, I think we need a very well coordinated GBV response team at county level, especially among the justice actors, hereby I mean like, at the police station when a case is reported, let’s have a gender desk, not police stations have gender desks. When the case is taken up by the prosecutor, let’s have someone who understands persons with disabilities. In the courtroom, let’s have the magistrate with intermediaries in this court whereby persons with special needs can express themselves and be understood so that we can enhance access to justice. Second thing, NGEC has a policy model, but in Kenya very few counties, I don’t know how many counties, but very few of them have county specific sexual and gender based violence policy. So I think we need to borrow a lot from the NGEC model on SGBV so that we can tailor-make those policies and then we lobby for gender responsive budgeting. When counties are doing budgeting lets ensure in our lobbying they put resources in place. They put resources to put up shelters and infrastructures so that women and girls, survivors of gender based violence can seek refuge when they are faced with violence. Thank you.
Lizzie: Thank you very much, Fridah. Thank you. Do you mind tying into what Easter was saying in terms of the need for a movement of women and girls with disabilities and maybe touch on the experiences that women and girls or disabilities in the counties where you work in, and how feasible it would be to include them all. How strategic it would be to include them in a movement building process?
Fridah: Yes, I would say that women and girls with disability, I agree with Easter that they need to be included in key decision making areas, especially during COVID-19 response. Let’s see women with disabilities in key decision making area so that they are able to talk on behalf of other women because they are the only ones who understand the challenges that women and girls with disability are facing. But currently we don’t see representation of women with disabilities in these key decision making areas at county and national level. So I totally agree with Easter
Easter: Part of it is that, one of the things we have to state is that we are tired of tokenism. The bit of tokenism is that within the spaces, in the room and you’re allowed in, usually it’s a tokenistic affair and supposedly a benevolent thing which government doing. Part of it, for me, we must resist that tokenism and ensure that that the resources, which are going into those particular spaces – the shelters, which you’re talking about, the rescue centers, which you’re talking about, must be wholistically funded and we have to be able to see them actually working. For example, one of the things we are saying is that policies are developed and it is assumed that everybody can read those policies. Yes, we can read but sometimes what you’re asking for the policy document to be done in Braille, for example, how much will it cost a county government to ensure that that policy document is in Braille. We have a Sexual and Gender Based Violence Policy within Kisumu which we are hoping to roll out to talk about these particular issues. But what we’re looking at is public participation, for you to be able to participate in those processes of even allocating resources, how many spaces are actually conducive for women and girls with disability to participate? Then you can’t put your voice in those particular spaces and that means that always that your voice is not in those particular policies.
So I’m also calling us to action as a movement as a women’s movement, how we push an agenda so that those policy frameworks are actually responsive to the different disabilities that we have. For example, whenever we go for public participation, and you’re talking about documents and allocation of budgets, even for shelters, we never even have sign language interpreters sitting in those public spaces. So it means that even if I had an issue, if I am a woman with hearing impairment I will not be able to sit in that space and be able to be heard. So much of it is that how do we then ensure that we are creating spaces as a women’s movement and demand for those things to be there consistently. That service delivery must be there consistently and that they are not supposed to be tokenistic that one day it is there the next day when you’re almost making a decision, then it is not there. So beyond the physical access, we also want the access to documents, which are then responsive to the different needs. And even with girls with disability within their own institutions how do we then respond to that? So for me, we need to question the movement and ask the movement that who have been left behind and how far behind are women and girls with disability in the women’s rights movement?
Lizzie: I think my question would be why is it so easy to forget that disability groups exists? I think some things would not fly in other sectors. So for example, you would not have a health policy or an education policy, unless this happens I’m not privy to that information, but would you have an education policy without an implementation plan and a budget attached to it?
Easter: Of course we have, we have a gender mainstreaming policy and one of the things we talked about is that gender mainstreaming policy must include issues of diversity and disability needs and it has to be budgeted for. So part of what Kenya is good at, is that we are very good at doing policy documents, tick the box, the policy document is there. How it will be rolled out? How it will be implemented? No one ever thinks about that. So part of it is that the implementation framework of this policy documents is what we also need to track. For example, the Constitution was very clear, certain things were supposed to be done within certain frameworks. So even in our policies that we are looking at, how is the policy framework supposed to be implemented. For example, if they’re supposed to be 47 shelters, that is at county level, we can have 47 shelters at county level and then at national level. We talk about shelters, but no implementation framework to say that by when are those things supposed to be done? So part of it is that then we become very comfortable with the other issues, and not considering that these issues are important. So we must then ensure that within our framework we are very strategic and very calculated in targeting to see when it’s being implemented, how much is being done, and then target at county level and national level. At national level there’s the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council, we can push that agenda so that they speak about it because NGC is there, the Council of Governments sits there, the Treasury also sits there. How do we push our agenda to national level? At county level, how do we target the County Budget and Economic Forums and ensure that the persons with disability who sit within those forums understand the context, the gendered context of the needs of women and girls with disability? Then we will move, then we’ll have budgets and then we must check whether those budgets are actually given or they disappear. So it’s a bit of work, but it’s doable.
Lizzie: Do you have an empowerment program within KEFEADO? And if you do, could you talk about its importance in terms of fighting against SGBV?
Easter: Yes, we have an employment program within KEFEADO where we talk about the community empowerment program. And the work is done by ensuring that at community level community members are empowered to voice their issues. We work with what we call Community Own Resource Persons who are diversified and include the women and girls with disability. So when you talk about inclusion, we also talk about the issues of inclusion of sexual minority groups within this particular place because they are the ones who are left out of them of the power structures. So the Community Development Program looks at that and we engage with community members at that level through that particular program. So we have those Community Own Resource Persons who there once trained even on issues of paralegal training, are then able to take up these issues and take issues up to court. And within the schools and community linkages program, that’s another program, that’s how we work with people in schools, and in institutions of higher learning. So within those spaces we give the talks, we speak about the issues of rights, the constitutional framework, how to be able to get your rights and then create the linkages. So the linkages with different arms of government, whether it is the Department of Health, whether we need to sit with the governor, we’ll find out how to sit with the governor at one particular place so that we can get budgets, access to assemblies and those kinds of things. So we have that community empowerment program, which even gives people knowledge on where to go. We tap into what they’re doing and then refer that to that particular place. So our programming is based on the issue of community engagement and the fulcrum of community voices being part of it. So that is how we have managed to engage with our schools who work disability within the county and also at national level. And we use different skills like using art; we have used art to also engage with children. So for example, in Kisumu, we used wire art to engage with children with visual impairment at Kibos School for the Blind. So that when they’re able to feel the messages and use messages so that children participate in those messages. For example in Bondo in Nyamonye School for the children with disability, we used painting, so that they are able to then participate in those conversations in their own way. So part of it is that how we use innovative measures, so that then they can speak but they can also learn at the same time on the challenges that people face.
And one of the challenges which we are faced which we also need to address is that sometimes the issue of not thinking about the sexual maturation of children with disability. Because of the discrimination they face there is delayed development and engagement in the school. So they are also adolescence and some of them are adults within institutions of learning we never considered this, so part of is that we also talk to the schools or how to engage them on sexual maturation so that they do not face unwarranted sexual advances and are able to protect themselves. So the language which we use is also something which we need to look at when engaging with the children in schools who face gender based violence, and also children out of school, who are discriminated against.
Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you. I’m just curious to follow up on the employment program, have you had cases where the community supports or intervenes on behalf of a woman or a girl with a disability in instances where they are not considered a credible witness violation of a sexual violation that has happened?
Easter: Part of it is that in terms of their various ways in which even you bring in a counselor because a counselor is able to see things which a normal person would not see. So how do you get counselors who are able to be able to gauge, for example, during this COVID period, a girl with intellectual disability was actually defiled in Kisumu. The reaction to the person who was thought to be the one who was defiling, when that person walked into the room based on the reaction – because when everybody else was in that room the girl was very calm – but immediately this person came into the space the girl became agitated. So part of it is that also training counselors to be able to pick up certain issues, and even within all the different spaces, how do we get counselors to be able to work with the different disabilities? Even with intellectual disabilities, how do we get them to be able to gauge what it is and use different methodologies? That is why we have been insistent on how do we work with a gender based violence recovery centers to be better equipped, to have that trained personnel who are able to work with the different persons who walk in there. So how do we get them to be able to have counselors who can be able to work with women and girls with intellectual disabilities so that they’re able to get to express themselves? So that training is required, but there are few trained people who are able to do that and that’s a gap which we need to also tap into because then they’ll be able to work. So that means it’s a protocol with within health facilities, for example, that it is a requirement.
Part of what we are also doing is to push the service charter to be also inclusive so that when the service charter in a health facility says that this is what they will do, we ask where’s that Washington short set of questions? Do you have issues to do with disability within your different departments? So those service charters if they are queried can then include some of these things within the health facility and community level, and then people will get to know how to engage.
Lizzie: Now, let’s talk about this specific context of COVID-19. Could you touch on, and I’ll start with you, Fridah, could you talk about what the experience of women and girls with disabilities in the counties that you work in? And what strategies COVAW is adopting to support them in this particular context?
Fridah: As COVAW we have seen an increase in the number of SGBV cases being reported to us, especially in the areas that we are working in. And some of the strategies that we are using is that we have our toll free number where the community members can report any cases of SGBV and we share that number towards the end of the podcast. The second thing is that for us, our work is continuing, even though the government has restricted people holding meetings for more than 15 people, we are doing radio shows, radio shows is what is working for us. Like today we had a radio show in Narok County whereby we engaged Sidai FM targeting communities in the marginalized areas. So the conversation must continue even if these meetings are not happening and they must continue through this radio shows. The third thing we are using as an organization is the bulk messaging. We have a database of our beneficiaries so every once in a while we are send information, a message passing information on
COVID-19 prevention measures and mitigation of SGBV. Because most of all of our beneficiaries, like in Kwale they were depending on tourism industry but the tourism industry have been closed and in Narok county it’s the same thing, where there still depending on the tourism industry. So we are offering food packages, the one that they have said earlier 400 families in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya where we work targeting low income areas. Thank you.
Lizzie: Thank you very much, Fridah. Easter?
Easter: Actually similar, it’s like we sat and agreed as women’s rights organizations. We are actually using similar things, we have ensured that we have the food packages and we are taking them to the sub county level. We are utilizing radio to be able to speak about these issues and ensuring that in terms of the radio we are also including women with disability to be able to be visible in that conversation. In terms of economic empowerment, because COVID has messed up people economically, so within the spaces which COVID affected there’s increased violence within the households. And it means that we need to also ensure that women with disability and able to recover for the ones in business. So we have actually put in a small package, which we call economic recovery package because women who used to work in markets, who used to do their business cannot do those businesses anymore. So we have said that in terms of this interim process we put in an economic recovery package so that they are not disabled in terms of their financial capacities. And that one will ensure that within three months, based on the status of COVID, we will still be able to ensure that they can start their recovery period and not face economic violence which they’re facing within their households. And we’re also ensuring that they are visible like we are going to be doing masks and I think that is the program you’re going to be doing with COVAW with support of HI. For the masks, the training on the development of masks is done by women with disabilities so that they can have money during this particular process. So engagement on that will then ensure that they’re able to respond.
There’s what we call the humanitarian response, Kisumu, Siaya and Homabay, we are grappling with both COVID and flood, so have also asked that that the humanitarian response must also have disability issues included. It wasn’t included totally and it is something which we need to look. In emergency response, does it mean that that the people who with different disabilities do not have challenges? Or are they left? Like when in Ahero, who takes care of them? So part of it is that we have asked the people in humanitarian response to be very cognizant of issues to do with disability and ensure that when meetings are being done persons with disabilities are present. When the first meetings were done person with disabilities were not present and people went on as normal, that it’s okay that you don’t, you’ll be talk for. So what we raised during that particular meeting was to ensure that they were included in the next meeting. But in the next meeting, as usual, it was a male person who only talked about businesses, but he said that we are seeing issues that the household level. So part of it is that then we said that we need women with disability organizations included and now they have been included but we are still not seeing that data which informs how many of the households which are women led have actually been targeted. We have not seen the response on the data which talks about the defilement cases and the rape cases which we have seen. The emerging challenges we’re seeing in the camps is that the camps are not segregated. It means that in terms of the camps, the violation the sexual violations are also increasing within those particular camps. So those are some of the things which are emerging which we are dealing with and we are hoping that we can get protocols, quick ones, to ensure there is something on segregation, to ensure that the reporting framework during this period of COVID are also addressed. So those are some of the things which then we are doing during this period.
Lizzie: Wonderful. Gosh, you guys are doing quite a lot, quite a lot. We are working on collecting, what do you call it, support from private sector and I think since you’re already working on the ground, it might be interesting to figure out how to disburse this because they are providing supplies but not the logistics part. And of course, we cannot travel. But I wanted to explore whether you think there are any opportunities to or any learning that we could derive from this context as a nation, but also you know, from one another?
Easter: My learning is that things can be done differently. We never thought we would be doing Zoom, we always used to travelling; it means that we can do a whole lot of different things and influence. Part of what I would like us also to do is that there are briefs which you can develop to government, both at county and national level, and also share those briefs on what needs to be done. So how do we do those briefs, particularly concerning the issues of SGBV and women and girls with disability and ensure that they reach the different places of influence and ensure that, for example, the State Department of Gender then picks it up as an issue. There are things which you can we can actually do and put pressure at policy level, which we then can review. I’ve been part of processes where everybody keeps on looking at the Ebola and other pandemics, and part of it is that even in those particular pandemics the issues of women and girls with disability were still very muted. So we have an opportunity to ensure that we can raise our voices and it’s a low hanging fruit. So for me, that’s something we can start doing while we push for those food baskets at community level, sanitary towels, those kinds of things.
Lizzie: Thank you Easter. Fridah?
Fridah: For me. Yes, there is a lot of learning especially on use of ICT. As a country, we should have a national GBV help line that is very well sourced to operate 24 hours that offer psychosocial support and care as soon as referral for survivors. In that it’s online based and anyone from anywhere can call without incurring any cost. The second thing is that we are learning is to need alternative safe houses and shelters for survivors. As Easter was saying earlier, we have good policies and we need the government to actualize them. One thing that we really need the government actualize during this COVID-19 period is that we need alternative safe houses and shelters for survivors of GBV. And the last thing that I’m learning individually is that self-care during COVID-19 is very important; take care of your mental health because we are getting a lot of news from here, there. So take care of your mental health, go for a walk, and listen to a podcast like this one. Check out how your beneficiaries are doing and lend a listening ear. I think we have a lot of learning from COVID-19
Lizzie: Thank you. I especially like the mental health one and listening to a podcast like this, very useful learning. Now in closing, you’ve talked about some key messaging in the entire discussion, but specifically what would be some key messages and strategies that we could recommend to the government around SGBV, specific to this current pandemic, but also post COVID?
Fridah: If I should go fast, there is an advisory note that COVAW and other women led organization drafted early last week and is actually available on our website. We’re calling on the government to respond to GBV issue during COVID-19. And one thing I would say is the government needs to increase provision of financial support to vulnerable households to ease economic threats, especially to vulnerable female headed households. Yes, I know they are doing quite a lot, but we need to see more, more in terms of financial support to these vulnerable households. The second thing is that the court should prioritize handling domestic violence cases as urgent cases. Remember in early April the Chief the Chief Justice noted that there was an increase in GBV cases amounting to about 35% of all cases that are being reported in court. So there is need for court to handle domestic violence cases as urgent cases.
Lizzie: Thank you. Fridah, Easter, do you have any thoughts?
Easter: I think we were also part of that drafting which was done by CREAW, we were part of that drafting, and it had a lot of very key issues which then need to be railed around. And one of the things which came out very clearly was the issue of the marginalization and the invisibility of issues to do with disability. So it would also be great if then, we have also a face. We talk about “nothing for us without us”, where is the face of women with disability in these particular spaces? There were also certain things which are being drafted by feminist organizations across the world, the issues of disability also came in there. So I think that one of the things which you can do is that let us use online platforms, and more of this, to be able to ensure that those documents can be shared within the disability movement, so that we localize it in spaces where then the local persons can be able to speak about them, and then put to task the duty bearers to be able to act on their asks. So if we are able to do this within the next few weeks, then I think we’ll be able to then ensure that within each county and at national level, the asks then becomes similar and it becomes a pressure point – when there’s enough pressure then people can’t ignore.
Lizzie: And I need to apologize, I should have checked in with you in the beginning. How are you both? How are you guys doing it in this situation? Both of you, from a mental health standpoint.
Easter: We do self care part of it. And actually one of the things is that, for example, Urgent Action Fund is actually doing activities which then include different organizations to be able to just to dance or listen to music or to clap or do something. So that is something which is done, like today, actually immediately after this, you choose music, do whatever you want, but at least within a collective, so that you are also able to share your experiences. So part of it is that even as a collective of women, what are we speaking about? How are we supporting one another? How do we check in on one another, so that then we don’t go…it’s a very challenging space at this particular moment because people are not used to it and it’s something which we need to tap into. And I think we can do things, even if it’s a weekly thing or if weekly is too much, then every two weeks, something can be done. So Urgent Action Fund is doing something great, so you listen to music and just chill with your people, do a chill spot and you can do you can detox kiasi.
Lizzie: That’s nice. Fridah?
Frida: For me self-care is very important. Don’t be confined in the house. And I mean don’t go out, don’t go out, but it’s good to take a nature walk within your home area. Yes, and listen to good things.
Lizzie: I just want to thank you both for joining us. If there are any last thoughts, any parting words that you would like to share now would be the time before we close. I’ll start with you, Easter.
Easter: Self Care is critical, and we will survive COVID-19 all of us, together we can. And take care of yourselves.
Lizzie: Thank you. Fridah?
Fridah: Allow me to share our toll free number just in case.
Lizzie: Yes, of course. Yes.
Fridah: So we have a toll free number that we recently launched and its operating 24/7. And the toll free number is 0800 720553. Let me repeat 0800720553. Thank you for having us.
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