Christine Kamau, a resident of Banana in Kiambu County recalls her family’s experience during Covid-19 with lots of fear. Her memories of how she endured confusion, stress and mental trauma are still fresh on her mind. Here are other examples of Covid-19 effects on Kenyan women.
Women in informal settings in Kenya often bear the implications of a crisis and currently the effects of Covid-19. Most times, they have to pull through alone. If they are lucky, a non profit like Lifesong Kenya steps in to help and offer support. Not knowing where to turn for help, Christine watched helplessly as her maize roasting business shut down. With businesses shut down, her customers did not have money to buy roasted maize.
Margaret Muchugu is a mother of four who resides at Githurai. Her experiences as a mom and community mobilizer is a prime example of Covid-19 effects on Kenyan women. For close to a decade, Margaret has worked in her community as a champion for the rights of women. In between her work in the community and juggling her roles as a mother, Margaret operated a small business.
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, everything in her life came tumbling down like a house of cards. When Uhuru Kenyatta confirmed the first case of Covid-19, the events that had been lined up for girls were immediately cancelled. Like many optimistic Kenyans, she thought life was going back to resume in the shortest time possible.
She was wrong!
Going into panic mode
The whole world soon went on a standstill as the countries closed their borders while churches, schools and bars closed shop. One month later, it was clear to Margaret that the new normal – where face mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing had become the norm. Time slowly ticked by and the harsh realities of the pandemic begun sinking in.
With no business and no events to facilitate, Margate went into a panic mode. She was worried about her breast-feeding daughter more than she was concerned about herself and other children.
Within no time, she ran out of the little savings she had to buy food supplies, rent and other essential bills. A few months into the lockdown, she was drained financially and emotionally. Within the first four months, Margaret didn’t have food to feed her children.
That is when she reached out to Lifesong Kenya who begun providing support through their Stay at Home Plan. The weekly care and support arrived just in time because she was feeling helpless at this point.
Many months deep into the pandemic, the situation got worse when debts started piling up and there was nowhere else to turn. The few friends she had in her network were also facing the same challenges. Knowing that the girls and young women in her program needed her, she was able to draw strength from her resolve and leadership qualities.
Not knowing what to do or think, she was at first was frightened. With little reliable information coming from the government and numerous theories spreading around, the lockdown continued biting. With time, Margaret and her children learned how to cope. She also learned how to reinvent herself by finding innovative ways of continuing her community service amidst the restrictions.
Putting on a brave face
“Other Covid-19 effects on Kenyan women resulted from teenage pregnancies that was blamed on mothers by the community,” Margaret recalled. “In addition to this, long closure of schools translated into children and parents staying indoors the whole day and night. This resulted into depression, stress and quarrels.”
When the Covid-19 restrictions were a little bit relaxed, Margaret and her organization, Pregnant and Mom organized a 3-day workshop. During the event that brought together 100 girls in the local community, various topical issues were tackled. 75% of the girls shared how the time they had spent under lockdown had been stressful for them.
Though they needed constant check-ups and follow-ups, the world shut their needs off. Some of their homes went down the drain after parents separated and disintegrated when their children needed them the most. In most cases, it is the women who were left to take care of the children in the absence of fathers.
This neglect led to crumbling self-esteem, mental health and confidence, especially in girls. During the workshop, Evelyn (not her real name) came in looking unkempt and out of place. After the session, Margaret sought to know exactly what was happening.
Amidst flowing tears, Evelyn recalled how the previous evening her drunk dad had arrived home and threw everyone out of the house. Her mother hastily called on a friend and managed to find a place to spend the night.
Knowing Evelyn needed reassurance, Margaret mustered all the courage she had to put on a brave face. After the day’s session, she accompanied Evelyn to meet her mom and get the parents reconciled. Since then, Margaret and her team have learned to encourage the girls to identify stressing situation and finding ways to manage and report the same.
Getting through Covid-19
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“I am grateful to Lifesong Kenya and how they provided support for me and my children,” Margaret said. “I particularly liked the way the team tailored their care and support to meet families at their specific points of need. Every family was treated and supported differently and according to their unique needs.”
“My biggest challenge was my youngest daughter,” she continued. “With my daughter needing milk and diapers, I was worried since organizations that were providing relief during Covid-19 were not supporting such needs.”
But Lifesong Kenya came through for her by providing food in addition to milk, diapers and even filling cooking gas. This helped relieve her stress and helped give her hope to face other challenges with courage and faith.
To get through the difficult Covid-19 pandemic, Margaret read a lot of books. She also found inspiration from her mom who held her hands throughout the pandemic.
“I also watched a lot of talk shows and closely followed good conversations from Tamima Ibrahim on Switch TV,” she added.
While watching Steve Harvey’s Talk Show, Margaret got an idea to create a platform where real life issues will be discussed in local languages. She is currently helping teenagers to reduce depression and other mental health issues through her outreach program.
The Covid-19 effects on Kenyan women may have hit hard, however, there are valuable lessons to be drawn from the pandemic. One can choose to learn innovative ways that lead to reinvention or get lost into the pain, loss and misery that Covid-19 came with.