Blog

Covid-19 Leads to an Increased Practice of Female Genital…

written by: Jenny Jecrois

In a previous blog post, we discussed how the closing of schools due to Covid-19 led to an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies and a decrease in the number of girls attending school. The impact of Covid-19 on young girls and the closing of schools is further highlighted by their increasing vulnerability to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), swelling the number of girls getting the procedure getting done.

About three months ago, the Kenyan High Court prohibited female mutilation to consenting adults because of the high health risks.The Kenya Female Genital Mutilation Act, further states that anyone found guilty of female circumcision could be sentenced to at least three years in jail or pay a fine of $1,800.

The prolonged school closures during this period can be directly linked to the risk young girls experience in regard to FGM. The schedule of school often indirectly protects girls from FGM practice because school breaks aren’t long enough for them to undergo the procedure and recover – a process that can take as long as two months if the area becomes infected. It has been reported that some mothers were happy with the long school closures because it allowed for a better opportunity for their daughters to get circumcised. The social network of schools, from peers and teachers, actively protected girls by holding parents accountable. Schoolmates would tell teachers if one of their female classmates had been cut and the teacher would report the parents to the police. Additionally, in school, girls were taught about the risks of FGM.

As many families struggle economically due to loss of employment during the pandemic, the dowry they would receive for marrying off their daughters is further incentive for FGM. In some of the tribes, FGM is a longstanding tradition, and it is an expectation for girls who wish to be married. In addition to not having the choice of getting the procedure done, girls expressing pain are also neglected. With cold water used as an anesthetic, the cries and shouts are culturally unaccepted as they signify cowardice and deem girls less attractive as possible wives. While the prevalence of FGM has decreased from 28 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2014, there exist significant variations regionally due to cultural and ethnic diversity.

Due to Covid-19, public awareness programs against FGM and rescue centres for women fleeing forced marriages have been disrupted in many countries. Since some of the centres also function as schools, they have to follow the school closing regulation, which hinders the service available to young girls and women. More than ever, it is time for youth advocacy and women’s health rights to be voiced as we see that this practice is not only illegal due to health risks but is culturally deeply ingrained in some societies denying girls their rights and overall wellbeing.

Blog

Importance of Investing in Menstrual Hygiene

Written by Jenny Jecrois- Roughly 500 million girls and women globally face limited access to managing their menstruation, according to the FSG report (FSG was previously called ‘Institute For Strategy and Competitiveness’). The Menstrual Health in Kenya Analysis reports that 65% of women are unable to afford sanitary pads, 50% of girls openly discuss menstruation at home, 32% of rural schools have facilities available for menstrual needs, and only 12% of girls feel comfortable receiving menstrual information from their mothers. There is a significant barrier to menstrual hygiene management (MHM) across Kenya, and it considerably harms girls and women living in low-income areas.

Fortunately, the importance of menstrual health is no longer unnoticed by global health organizations as they acknowledge that menstrual health is a matter of human rights. The report, Making the Case for Investing in Menstrual Health and Hygiene, is part of the growing effort in advancing menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) needs. In this report, it is stated that despite the increase in partners and attention to the issues of MHH, institutional funding is nowhere near what is required to address the challenges of MHH. Many organizations focus their investment on menstrual hygiene products, education, and water hygiene and sanitation (WASH), while few addresses social norms and policy. All sectors must be invested in this because MHH is greater than a lack of menstrual health products but also involves debunking societal and cultural norms.

As mentioned, addressing MHH requires a multidisciplinary approach in which public health; water hygiene and sanitation, environment, gender equality, and education are all considered. The importance of investing in menstrual hygiene is for the improvement of women’s’ and girls’ health and quality of life. Investing in MHH has a positive correlation to economic development as MHM can keep women at work. Proper menstrual hygiene keeps girls in school, therefore allowing them to maintain the same educational pace as their male counterparts. Improved communication and sensitization around MHM can also ensure better mental health amongst women and girls by empowering them rather than making them feel estranged.

Investing in menstrual hygiene aligns with achieving several Sustainable Development Goals, specifically good health and wellbeing, gender equality, and clean water and sanitation. Such an investment is no more than investing in human rights because women’s rights are human rights. A world without period poverty is possible if we focus our attention on investing in menstrual health and hygiene.

Blog

Ep 6: US and Kenyan citizen responses to COVID-19:…

Ep 6: US and Kenyan citizen responses to COVID-19

 
 
00:00 / 6:07
 
1X

By Crissy Saks

COVID-19 has entered the consciousness of all people around the world, but not all have chosen to accept it. Conspiracy theories, accusations against the government and denying its existence have been prevalent in many countries, such as Kenya and the US.

In March, the US Center for Disease Control announced that masks were only for those who were symptomatic, while the Kenyan government closed airports, churches, schools and mosques. In April, individual US states started to mandate mask wearing for everyone. In May, Kenya ordered a countrywide mask mandate with a fine of Sh20,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or both. Both experienced shutdowns and reopening, drops in economic prosperity and employment, and both had relatively similar responses to COVID-19.

In the US, many reacted negatively with the announcement of a pandemic. Many reject the idea of such a virus, calling it a hoax and creating conspiracy theories to try and disprove COVID-19 and public health officials’ responses. Most popular is the use of social media to disseminate this information, mostly on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. Many believe that COVID-19 is a ploy for the rich and powerful to control the masses, while some believe it is governmental authoritarianism to enforce lockdowns (varying by state) and mask-wearing mandates (again varying by state). Even as the US has the most COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world, many don’t believe in the existence of such a terrible virus.

In Kenya, there was a slightly similar response. Disbelief in the virus is prevalent in communities that are misinformed. These communities are mainly slums where people believe the virus is only for the rich or that alcohol can protect against COVID-19. Strict government rulings like mandatory mask-wearing, banning religious and social gatherings and nationwide curfew of 7pm to 5am have also garnered backlash, with some citizens believing it is an authoritarian move. Even so, the response and tensions in the two countries are very different. Kenya does not have as many cases as the US, but there are various reasons why.

First, the Kenyan nationwide mask-wearing, curfew and ban on large gatherings has slowed the spread significantly. The US had no such national action and still has not had such an action. Second, Kenya has tens of thousands of Kenya Red Cross volunteers that reach out to the community and educate the people about the importance of hygiene, mask-wearing, social distancing and information about COVID-19. The US has no nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of COVID-19 and precautions against it. While in Kenya people don’t have as much access to clean water and sanitation, as well as quarantine spaces, precautions put in place are believed to have slowed the spread. However, access to COVID-19 tests is lesser in Kenya than the US, leading to a lower reporting of cases and possibly more cases than reported. The backlash against these precautions have been prominent in both Kenya and the US.

In Kenya, with the curfew and mask-wearing, police are responsible for enforcement, leading to protests against police officers abusing their power. Kenya’s police force is notorious for being corrupt, but it is further exposed to the curfew and mask-wearing arrests. Between March to June, 15 people, including a 13-year-old boy, have been killed by police while enforcing new restrictions. With the pandemic, people continue to protest the injustice and corruption of Kenyan police, hoping for police reform and a change in the system.

In the US, people have been protesting the lockdowns at the capitols of their states, many without wearing masks or social distancing. Despite all this, police were not aggressive to these protesters. However, when the US Black Lives Matter movement reemerged with the death of George Floyd, curfews were enacted in several cities to dissuade these protesters and give police officers the right to arrest these people. Tear gas, arrests and rubber bullets were deployed to break these protesters apart. While this movement did not have a resurgence due to the pandemic, the pandemic further exacerbated the systemic racism prevalent in US society and in the police force.

Both countries’ citizens have experienced misinformation about COVID-19 and strict rules centering around preventing community spread, as well as police abuse. However, the impact of COVID-19 affects all people, no matter what socioeconomic status or where in the world one lives. Learning and understanding scientific facts as well as adhering to health precautions are important to combat misinformation and lessen the impact of COVID-19. Kenya and the United States, while on opposite sides of the world and with different resources and economies, are both suffering from the same virus. COVID-19, for better or for worse, ultimately unifies us all.

Cited Sources:

Achuka, V. (2020, May 13). You face arrest you for not wearing a face mask in public. Daily Nation.

https://www.nation.co.ke/kenya/news/you-face-arrest-you-for-not-wearing-a-face-mask-in-public-285946

Associated Press. (2020, June 26). Kenya: 3 People Killed in Clash With Police Over Face Masks | Voice of

America – English. VOA News. https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/kenya-3-people-killed-clash-police-over-face-masks

Bellamy, W. M. (2020, June 16). Kenya’s Case of Covid-19. Center for Strategic International Studies.

https://www.csis.org/analysis/kenyas-case-covid-19

CDC. (2020, August 13). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

Chabria, A. (2020, May 24). Role of extremist groups at California lockdown protests raises alarms. Los

Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-24/shutdown-protestors-crowd-capitol-sacramento-coronavirus-reopen-california

Gottbrath, L.-W., Formichella, L., & Abdalla, J. (2020, June 1). George Floyd protesters undeterred by US

curfews: Live updates. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/george-floyd-curfews-extended-protests-spread-live-200531204512954.html

Rogers, K. (2020, May 21). How Bad Is The COVID-19 Misinformation Epidemic? FiveThirtyEight.

Smith, G. (2020, May 13). Stamping out misinformation in Kenya’s COVID-19 fight. Al Jazeera.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/stamping-misinformation-kenya-covid-19-fight-200424195805081.html

Blog

COVID-19 Exacerbates Kenyan Inequality of Water Accessibility

As the pandemic rages on around the world, many countries have had to deal with doing daily tasks under a “new normal”, including safety precautions such as wearing face coverings, social distancing and frequent hand washing. However, in many areas of Kenya, where access to water is not as easy as turning on a faucet, some of these safety precautions are not possible.

In April, Nairobi experienced a landslide in Aberdare Forest that broke essential water pipes. This led to the shutting down of water production at Sasumwa Dam Treatment in early May. This dam supplies 11.6 percent of water to the Nairobi City County Population, according to Acting Manager Director Nahashon Muguna of Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company. When asked about repairs, he cited heavy rains making access and repair difficult, promising “the government is doing everything possible to restore the supply to residents of Nairobi.”

Kenyans in affected areas were asked to use available water sparingly and water distribution points were set up. Many took advantage of the situation, setting up private boreholes and trucks, all while jacking up prices. Maureen Mkala of Mathare, a slum in Nairobi, waited up to an hour in extremely crowded water points to get 20 liters of water for her family, which includes three children. She has had to ignore social distancing to wait in line, only to get a minimal amount of water to drink and to wash her and her family’s hands to prevent the virus.

Maureen’s ability to get water has always been a struggle, as Mathare does not have any taps or pipes that flow into their informal settlements. However, the danger of living in such areas is heightened, as clean water is needed more urgently, and social distancing is hard with the dense population of 500,000 people. Hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face covering is essential in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but in such areas as Mathare, this is hard to execute.

The Aberdare Forest landslides also forced the shutdown of the Ng’ethu plant, which supplies up to 85% of the capacity cubic meters. Later, in early July, the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company shut the Ngethu Water Treatment plant again, but for 48 hours to facilitate repairs due to heavy rainfall.

In early June, water flowed back into Nairobi homes after repairs on the water pipes of the Sasumwa Dam Treatment. Even as many breathed a sigh of relief, there are still drastic inequalities in Nairobi water access. Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui stated that Nairobi’s current water demand is above 800,000 cubic meters per day, compared to the installed capacity of 526,000 cubic meters per day. Rationing water has become the norm, regardless of tap access or not.

Even with the reopening of water plants, many still have to walk to water distribution points, boreholes and other areas to buy water. Social distancing is essential but not always done, as many wait long hours to get to freshwater to drink and clean themselves. To those that have tap access, water rationing cycles are maintained, leading to low-pressure water during supply days.

In a pandemic, water is essential to livelihood. Having access to clean water to wash one’s hands is absolutely necessary to keep oneself healthy. COVID-19 has only further exposed the inequalities of water access in Nairobi. Many countries have offered aid to Kenya in this time, especially in terms of water and soap access.

The EU, along with Sweden, Finland and Denmark, have mobilized a total of Ksh 211 million to target 119,000 people in COVID-19 hotspots in 25 countries, including Kenya. The U.S. Agency for International Development announced Ksh ~5.4 billion to support Kenya during COVID-19. The Kenyan government has continued to monitor dams and plants, along with supporting staff training for COVID-19 awareness.

Water access has always been a problem throughout all of Kenya, but as Water CS Chelugui said himself, “water is a national resource”. Water should be treated as such. It should be distributed fairly to the people, whether they live in houses or informal settlements, and treated not just as a national resource, but as a fundamental human right. Kenya, as well as all other nations, should do by these words, and make sure the national resource of water be equally allocated to all.

Written by Crissy Sak

Cited Sources:

Ministry of Water & Sanitation & Irrigation. (n.d.). Ministry of Water & Sanitation And Irrigation. https://www.water.go.ke/

United States Providing KSH 5 Billion to Support Health and Economy Recovery in Kenya’s COVID-19 Response. (2020, July 1). U.S. Embassy in Kenya. http://ke.usembassy.gov/united-states-providing-ksh-5-billion-to-support-health-and-economy-recovery-in-kenyas-covid-19-response/

Kihiu, N. (2020, July 8). City water firm announces 48-hour supply disruption for scheduled maintenance – Capital News. Capital News. https://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2020/07/city-water-firm-announces-48-hour-supply-disruption-for-scheduled-maintenance/

Koech, G. (2020a, January 10). Why Nairobi taps could soon run dry despite assurances. The Star. https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2020-01-10-why-nairobi-taps-could-soon-run-dry-despite-assurances/

Koech, G. (2020b, May 1). Dry taps in city as Ng’ethu treatment plant shut to avoid contamination. The Star. https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2020-05-01-dry-taps-in-city-as-ngethu-treatment-plant-shut-to-avoid-contamination/

Koech, G. (2020c, June 1). Sigh of relief as Nairobians assured of water after Sasumua pipeline  

repaired. The Star. https://www.the-star.co.ke/counties/nairobi/2020-06-01-sigh-of-relief-as-nairobians-assured-of-water-after-sasumua-pipeline-repaired/

Riordan, L. (2020, May 11). Access to water and sanitation in Kenya fight COVID-19. International Cooperation and Development – European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/international-partnerships/stories/access-water-and-sanitation-kenya-fight-covid-19_en

Tanui, C. (2020, May 8). Nairobi water firm shuts down Sasumwa Dam supply as landslide damages transmission line – Capital News. Capital News. https://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2020/05/nairobi-water-firm-shuts-down-sasumwa-dam-supply-as-landslide-damages-transmission-line/

Yusuf, M. (2020, June 2). Kenyan Capital’s Water Shortage Raises COVID-19 Risk | Voice of America—English. VOA. https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/kenyan-capitals-water-shortage-raises-covid-19-risk

Blog

Community Engagement the Umande Way

For Umande Trust, community engagement and inclusion are central, at all stages of establishing and maintaining the bio-centres. It is crucial to be in constant communication with the local community members, the beneficiaries of the services provided, as well as receive relevant knowledge on the local environment and its challenges.

The community meeting

On November 15th, the Umande Trust staff participated in a community meeting, in order to explore the opinions, requests and concerns of the people living in the area of Lindi, Kibera, where the New Blue bio-centre will be constructed. The team, composed of Benazir, Lionel, Peter, Valerie, Solomon, Stella, Pepijn and Jackie arrived on the future site of the bio-centre, and the local community immediately started to gather around, to listen and participate in the meeting. The team was introduced by the owner of the land, who donated it to the youth group leading the process and will operate the facility once in place. Lionel then started engaging with the community, gathering their input on the current situation. Women described the current sanitation arrangement (pit latrine) as dirty, precarious, unsafe and unhygienic; children highlighted its smell and the risk of falling in; men mentioned the fact that it is only convenient to use the toilet early in the morning and late at night due to their lack of privacy and that there are no other decent sanitation facilities nearby. 

Lionel explaining the project

After having verified the sanitation condition of the area, Lionel, continued with the description of the project, explaining who the donors and the group behind the project were, who the subcontractors for the building of the facility will be, mentioning the possibility of some being hired as builders, given the great interest residents demonstrated to be included on the process. He also showed the plan for the completed facility, for people to have an idea of the final state, and to stimulate discussion on the potential use of the first floor (suggestions were made for a playing space for kids). The residents were highly engaged and participated throughout the whole duration of the meeting, and made several requests and remarks, in order for the project to meet their needs and expectations. Furthermore, during the meeting it became clear that the community appears to be more focused on the sanitation aspect of the facility rather than the biogas element. This is a challenge that can also be seen in existing bio-centres in Kibera: people tend to not make use of the public cooking facilities, since they prefer not to cook their meals in the same space as the bathrooms; a design consideration for future facilities. Umande Trust strongly encourages the group to actively engage in the process, rather than solely host them in the project, and thus it is of great importance that the group has the opportunity to vocalize their ideas, thoughts, and needs. It is also essential that the group gets trained and taught on sanitation management in order for the biocentre to have a lasting impact on the community. Job creation, skill development and good governance are therefore paramount.