Kenya: State Now Lists SGBV Shelters as Essential Service

The government has listed provision of shelters and safe houses for survivors of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) an essential service, a major milestone in protection of women and girls rights’ in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Children protection service providers also fall in the same category in the April 12, gazette notice by Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of National Government Dr Fred Matiang’i.

Gender equality advocates have lauded the government for heeding their pleas to recognise the crucial needs of women and girls at this vulnerable period when SGBV cases are bound to increase.

Last year, in the period during which schools were closed, curfews and inter-county movements were restricted, the rates of SGBV rose by 92.2 per cent.

At the time, a group of women’s rights organisations petitioned the government to prioritise provision of safe houses and shelters.

These were Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (Creaw), Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya (Fida-Kenya) and Coalition on Violence against Women-Kenya, Covaw (K). They also included Equality Now, Groots Kenya, Sustainable Development Goals Forum Kenya (SDGs Forum) and Kenya Female Advisory Organisation (Kefeado).

Funding shelter

They further proposed the use of at least 30 per cent share of Covid-19 funds to providing SGBV services, including funding shelter and safe houses, support SGBV survivors’ access medico-legal services and psychosocial support.

At the same time, they appealed for integrated anti-SGBV messaging during the daily briefing on the status of Covid-19 in the country.

“This is a big move,” said Creaw executive director Ms Wangechi Wachira

By prioritising provision of shelters and safe houses alongside children protection officers, the government has eased evacuation of SGBV survivors from unsafe spaces, she said.

For instance, children officers can accompany the rescued girls to the shelters without fear of being arrested for violating the curfew order.

“In Nairobi alone, in the first week of the latest lockdown, the number of women who sought for shelters went high,” she said.

“They don’t have alternative escape channels as they cannot return to their homes in the villages. The shelters therefore, remain the only option and that is why we must keep them open and running to secure the survivors of SGBV.”

Kenya, however, has a huge shortage of shelters with only one government-run (in Makueni County) and at least 40 others privately-owned, distributed in 15 counties.

Gender specialist Ms Florence Machio, said the Covid-19 pandemic illustrates the urgency of the government to invest in shelters and safe houses.