Globally, reports of violence against women have increased exponentially in 2020 during the pandemic (UNDP, 2020). One reason behind this phenomenon is explained by the lockdown some countries have imposed on its citizens and refugees.
The lockdown forces women and girls to stay with their abusers under the same roof. Due to the economic nose-dive and financial strain, the majority of schools, institutions, and rescue centers housing vulnerable refugee women and girls have closed down, leaving them in the hands of their abusers.
The pre-existing social norms that encouraged gender-based violence (GBV) and gender inequality in refugee camps have gotten worse after COVID-19. The global pandemic has severed support services available to refugee girls and women. UNDP estimates females between the ages of 15-49 years have suffered a form of sexual or physical violence from an intimate partner in the last 12 months (UNDP, 2020).
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle in combating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in refugee camps during COVID-19 is under-reporting. It is recorded that less than 40% of violated women seek any sort of help from authorities or women support systems. Even less than 10% directly report to the police.
Studies by UNHCR reveal that domestic violence is one of the tops reported forms of gender-based violence in the Kakuma refugee camp (UNHCR, 2018). Refugee women and girls are highly affected by SGBV. Since, the mandatory lockdown in April by the Kenyan government, the numbers have been rising at an alarming rate countrywide (Agnes Odhiambo, 2020). Further investigations by grassroots organizations and local authorities highlight close relatives, guardians, and/or people living with victims as the main perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.
A recent survey of survivors of gender-based violence in Dadaab showed that 60.3% of refugee women had been subjected to non-partner violence, while 66.7% to intimate partner violence in their lifetime (Sheru Muuo, 2020). As you can see, GBV is present in all refugee camps within the Kenyan border.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the focus has shifted from protecting refugee women to preventing the spread of the pandemic. Because of this shift, thousands of refugee girls and women within refugee camps are left defenseless with nowhere to run.
A 13% increase in gender-based violence cases between January and March 2020 has been recorded by the national GBV hotline in Kenya (Kenya Situation Report, 2020). This is a countrywide indication of how dire the SGBV situation is amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, gender-based violence is not only affecting Kenyan citizens but also refugee women.
Recently, UNOCHA recorded 500K women, and girls in informal settlements are in desperate need of protection against sexual and gender-based violence. Up until July, efforts to assist refugee women and girls were impeded by the COVID-19 movement restrictions and health regulations since Kakuma was locked down on 29th April 2020.
It is regrettable that gender-based violence cases in refugee camps are on the rise during COVID-19. Furthermore, such incidents are expected to escalate after the pandemic according to UN Women research (UN Women, 2020). The research also drew attention to the total cost of violence against women-USD $1.5 trillion globally. This cost is expected to increase this year unless grassroots organizations and local authorities step in to prevent and respond to cases.
Resilience Action International is looking forward to seeing the change in statistics concerning sexual and gender-based violence, especially, in Kakuma and other refugee camps. Equipped with intensive sexual reproductive health (SRH) programs, RAI is looking forward to educating Kakuma refugee youths concerning sexual rights.
We believe with accurate knowledge and equipping refugee women and girls with sexual health education, they can guard themselves against perpetrators and seek professional help. Not only that but we also educate refugee men and boys concerning sexual health matters with the aim of reducing and exterminating SGBV within the Kakuma refugee community.
Kenya Situation Report. (2020, July 21). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from UNOCHA: http://reports.unocha.org/en/country/kenya
Agnes Odhiambo. (2020, April 8). Tackling Kenya's Domestic Violence Amid COVID-19 Crisis. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/08/tackling-kenya's-domestic-violence-amid-covid-19-crisis
Sheru Muuo, S. K. (2020, February 20). Barriers and Facilitators to care-seeking among survivors of gender-based violence in the Dadaab refugee complex. Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, 28(1), https://doi.org/10.1080/26410397.2020.1722404.
UN Women. (2020, April 6). Violence against women and girls: the shadow pandemic. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from UN Women: https://www.women.org/en/news/stories/2020/4/statement-ed-phumzile-violence-against-women-during-pandemic
UNDP. (2020, May 11). UN Women (2020). The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women and Girls and COVID-19. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from United Nations Development Programme : https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/ multimedia/2020/4/infographic-covid19-violence-against-women-and-girls
UNHCR. (2018, August 13). SGBV Strategy Kakuma Refugee Camp Kenya. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): https://data2.unhcr.org/en'documents/details/65133