Dr. Christine Sadia is a gender and public health expert with over 30 years’ experience advising governments on health and gender issues, such as psychosocial needs of women in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and HIV programming during the Indonesia tsunami. UN Women is supporting Dr. Sadia in her current role as a Gender and Public Health Advisor for Kenya’s State Department for Gender Affairs, to advise on the country’s national emergency response for COVID-19. As of mid-July, Kenya has recorded 12,750 positive cases of COVID-19, and has implemented several measures, including social distancing, mandating masks in public spaces, and night-time curfew to stop the spread of the virus. Dr. Sadia talks to UN Women about the situation in Kenya and her recommendations for recovery efforts.
“The mental health and psychosocial impacts of this pandemic are perhaps the most severe. Widespread loss of livelihoods contributes to this. The schools are closed, and many of them provided food and other support services, and reduced the unpaid care burden on women. We have seen a very high escalation of gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence, and significant upsurge in cases of male suicide. The situation breeds frustrations and anxiety. It is hard for everyone.
There is plenty of information out there, but access to information differs between men and women in Kenya. Some of our recent studies indicate misconceptions about COVID-19. You hear such things as: “[the measures] are for the elite”, or that “we are in sunshine; the virus won’t affect us.” Perceptions [also] differ from urban to rural areas. A strong communications strategy is necessary to combat misinformation and stigmatisation.
Men not only have a higher level of access to information than women, the modes through which they receive information also differ, so it is important to analyse this and plan accordingly. Women do not have enough knowledge on infection control, yet they will be disproportionately responsible for home-based care when the hospitals get full.
Availability of commodities (gloves, sanitiser and other PPE) is limited in Kenya and carers will prioritise caring for the sick over their own health. Women must be given tools and training, so they fully comprehend what the risks are. Masks must be provided for home-based patients to stop the spread. I would request that anybody who is going to provide care, should receive cash transfer, so that at least they can buy food.
If you ask me, the recovery plans are a little premature. We need more documentation and analysis of the impacts; this analysis should influence the recovery phase. We need to understand the different impacts for women and men. For example, stimulus packages may favour larger companies, despite their capability to access loans from banks and other financial institutions. We should ensure that small and medium enterprises and those in the informal sector are supported, because they are the hardest hit. The households headed by women, the small traders and domestic workers are among the most vulnerable.”