For the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are handing over the mic to women and men on the front line, those who are battling COVID-19 and the pandemic of violence against women and girls that’s relentless and rising. These are the voices of survivors, essential workers, and leaders, telling us what’s urgent, and how we can stop the escalating violence, recover and rebuild from COVID-19.
Child survivor of sexual violence, Aisha, from Kenya asks, “where am I safe, if I am not safe at home?”
“My life before was a good one, I went to school and played with my best friend.
I am 12 years old and have a younger brother who is 10. We lived with our father. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we could not go to school anymore. I felt sad staying at home, but at least I had a friend who was also my neighbour. I could visit her and we could play together. That’s where it happened.
I went to her home one afternoon to watch our favorite television programme. My friend stepped out for something. Her father pulled me towards him and started fondling me. I tried to scream but he covered my mouth with his huge hands and dragged me to his bed.
It was horrific and all I wanted was for him to stop. I managed to kick him at one point and ran out. I went home and told what had happened to the first person I thought would help me – my father.
He said that he would have to examine me first. And that’s when it happened all over again. My father took me to his bed.
I remember lying there helplessly, with tears flowing down my eyes. I remember being confused – he was my father and I had come to him for help. I didn’t know who else to go to. Who am I to trust, if not my parent? Where am I safe, if I’m not safe at home?
Later, my father confronted the neighbour and took him to the police station, where I was asked to give my account. I could not trust anyone at that point, until a female police officer came along. I told her everything – including what my father had done to me.
I was brought to this shelter after that. I have made new friends and I’m picking up my learning. My favorite subject is mathematics. When I grow up, I want to be a pediatrician.
The perpetrators have since been arrested and the case is in court.”
Aisha’s story is that of many young girls who face violence within their own homes. Our programmes work to tackle gender-based violence and support survivors.
Aisha,* 12 years old, is now living in a shelter in the coastal region of Kenya, with 34 other children who have experienced gender-based violence. When schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these girls fell victims to sexual abuse within their homes.
The data from the national gender-based violence helpline in Kenya shows an alarming rise in reports of violence since 13 March, when coronavirus cases were first confirmed in the country. According to the Chief Justice David Maraga, sexual offences constituted 35.8 per cent of cases recorded since March, and toll-free hotlines reported a 42 per cent increase in calls for help.
UN Women, with funding from the Government of Finland, Sweden, Japan and Italy, is working with the Center for Rights, Education and Awareness to support survivors of gender-based violence in shelters across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This support has ranged from providing psychosocial counseling and pro-bono legal aid, to distributing dignity kits, food and other necessities to survivors of violence, so that a minimum set of essential services are available for survivors, even during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Aisha’s story reminds us every day how urgent it is to maintain and expand this support, especially during a pandemic.
* Aisha is not her real name. The name has been changed to protect the identity of the survivor
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Aisha is living in a shelter in the coastal region of Kenya, with 34 other children who have experienced gender-based violence. Featured Photo Credit: UN Women/Kennedy Okoth