BY CALVINCE ORWA
Adolescent girls are among the most marginalized and at-risk populations when outbreaks and emergencies such as COVID-19 occur.
Evidence from earlier crises shows that epidemics and other natural disasters exacerbate existing vulnerabilities of girls and create new ones and deepen gender and social inequalities.
Such negative secondary impact could lead to a significant reversal in gains made over the last few decades in women’s and girls’ human capital, economic empowerment, voice and agency, and thus threaten the commitment of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 to eliminate gender disparities at all levels in the region.
COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the WHO on March 11th 2020 and the first case in Kenya was confirmed by the Ministry of Health on march 12th 2020 in Nairobi. The virus is now present in all counties in Kenya.
Evidence has shown that mitigating measures like lockdowns as well as the disease itself, have a detrimental impact on adolescent girls. In times of crisis, adolescent girls face great risks due to school closures, loss of livelihood, significant stress on families and lack of access to safe spaces and sexual reproductive information and services.
In the first wave of Covid 19 crisis, adolescent pregnancy cases increased by up to 65% according to the available national data. The rise in teenage pregnancy was attributed to several factors, including – increased sexual exploitation, sexual violence and transactional sex, as well as a rise in consensual sexual activity and enhanced barriers to accessing SRH services.
Emerging evidence indicates that COVID-19 as well as the mitigating measures applied to contain it, are resulting in substantial negative secondary impact on adolescent girls across various aspects of life.
In my home county of Migori for instance, initial studies by Plan International have shown that domestic violence has risen as a result of COVID-19 related curfew restrictions and economic burden of Covid 19. For instance, there has been a spike of 30% in domestic violence during the previous waves.
During the first and second wave of Covid19, World Vision reported a 35% increase in gender-based violence cases and a 50% increase in violence against girls.
School closure has also been severally identified as a predisposing factor to sexual gender-based violence against girls, female genital mutilation, early marriage and teenage pregnancies.
In a move to mitigate these and other emerging gaps, county governments should move with speed to put in place a pandemic response that sufficiently addresses women’s and adolescent girls’ needs.
This is also the time to put to action the many existing policies that address these very issues. For instance, the Migori County Sexual Gender Based Violence Policy 2021 was recently launched. We hope it will not end up on the shelf.
Finally, local governments need to have a well-tailored, sex and age-specific programs that systematically target adolescent girls and women. Put in place an economic stimulus package targeting adolescent girls and young women.
Mr Orwa is a youth advocate at the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA)