“Life is hard.” In this era of Covid-19, this phrase has become too familiar in almost every conversation across the hills and valleys of this country.
But it is only until you meet someone going through a personal crisis that you understand what that really means.
Aisha is one such person (her name has been changed to protect her from further harm).
The 21-year-old resident of Kibra DC in Nairobi is married to a tailor. Together, they have two children aged five and one.
Aisha is a lonesome partner in the marriage, a change of status she has had to put up with since March last year, when Covid-19 hit Kenya.
“Sometimes I wish to die with my children,” Aisha opens up.
For the past 14 months, she has been her family’s sole provider. She says her husband has stopped providing for the family, claiming he is broke.
“Every time I ask him for money, he says he does not have a penny yet his business is still running,” says Aisha, who does casual domestic jobs for a daily wage of Sh300.
“I’m forced to get food from my mother, but she is also struggling to single-handedly take care of my six siblings. Sometimes we go hungry when she has nothing to give me, and I’m breastfeeding.”
Aisha says she prefers putting up with her husband’s economic abuse because she has nowhere to go.
“Where do I go? I can’t go back to my mother. She is already carrying a heavy burden,” she says.
Mental awareness sessions
With a non-supportive husband and nowhere to go, Aisha has had to find a way to stay emotionally and mentally healthy for the sake of her children.
She regularly attends mental awareness sessions held weekly by a local women’s empowerment organisation called Superb.
“There are those days I feel like I have reached the end of the tether but once the sessions are over, I realise, ‘Oh, there is hope after all,'” she says.
She is one of 130 women and girls receiving mental health support each Saturday and Sunday, giving them a new lease of life amid their problems.
“Women are going through a lot. They lost jobs, their businesses failed or they can’t get jobs. They literally don’t have any money to provide for their children. Others are being abused by their husbands,” says Superb founder Yasmin Nassur.
“It is just too much. We cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to their cries. Women greatly contribute to the development of our economy.”
A 2020 joint study, An Assessment of the Gendered Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Households, by UN Women et al., established higher stress levels among women (60 per cent) than men (56 per cent).
“Although Covid-19 has affected the physical health of both women and men, the burden of mental and psychological health disproportionately falls on women,” the report says.
“Coupled with the circumstances around the pandemic, including home-based care for asymptomatic patients, the burden of stress, anxiety and confidence, losing one’s job and therefore incomes, having to take care of families at home and ensure that their basic needs are met amid financial constraints may have contributed to the decline in mental health of women.”