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Commentary by our very own, Lamek Nyabuga, on women and girls’  safety and what it takes to prevent gender-based violence during COVID-19

Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) is disrupting the whole universe and now business is taking a different dimension. From work to school, people have to adjust to a new way of life. With regards to the closure of schools, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that about 1.38 billion children are out of school due to this pandemic and this could be an opportunity for parents to bond with their children more now that they are home.

Contrary to our expectations, the whole pandemic has turned out to be catastrophically propagating the violation of the sexual reproductive and health rights of young women and girls. It is so unfortunate that in a couple of weeks, there has been a spike in the cases of sexual gender-based violence being reported with rape and defilement leading from the top of the list. 

We all know that homes are meant to be the safest places where young people can feel safe and cared for. Unfortunately recently in Kenya, the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, David Maraga reiterated that there has been a tremendous increase in rape cases and defilement that are being presented at the courts and this sends an alarm that our children especially young girls are no longer safe. close friends, relatives, and parents have been subjecting them to this kind of human rights violations, that undermine the wellbeing of young people. This even presents a serious implication on their sexual reproductive health and mental health. 

As more countries continue to enforce the stay at home policy to curb the spread of COVID-19, there is a heightened demand for the protection of the rights of women and girls from sexual gender-based violence. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there was the challenge of underreporting of issues of gender-based violence and most of the victims ended up seeking no care. With the ongoing crisis that has diverted the attention of the health systems across the globe,  there is an urgent need to break the barriers that limit women and girls from accessing the post-rape care services that they need. And most importantly, police and the community systems need to foster collaboration that will prevent such acts of sexual violence against young girls and women in the first place. We must work together to uphold the protection of the rights of women and children in our communities. 

It is widely acknowledged that there is a need to stay at home, keep social distancing to stay healthy, however,  everyone should know that the prevention of violence against women and girls is a paramount and collective effort. The actors in this space should provide opportunities to monitor the situation and ensure that we can control crimes and also see that the survivors can report violence without being judged. Have access to post-rape care service and psychosocial support. The escalating gender-based violence needs to be addressed through a multisectoral approach without leaving anyone behind. Protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people  should be prioritized and taken into serious consideration  as we navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.

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