Fighting gender-based violence in drought-affected Garissa
Providing lifesaving gender-based violence services
Many pastoralist areas in Northern Kenya have experienced four consecutive failed or below-average rainy seasons, leading to the most severe drought in forty years. As a result, the Government of Kenya and partners estimate that some 4.5 million people need humanitarian assistance, including 2 million children. Girls in particular have experienced increased levels of gender-based violence and child marriage in drought-affected communities.
Halima, a mother of three children under five years old, recently arrived at an integrated outreach clinic supported by UNICEF in Garissa County. The clinic always attracts large crowds, including mothers and children who need health and nutrition services, community leaders who support service delivery, and community health volunteers who identify and refer patients from nearby communities.
"I am increasingly concerned about the safety of my children, especially my girls.,” Halima said. “While our husbands are travelling long distances to find grazing fields for our livestock, I have to walk over two hours a day to fetch water for my family to cook and drink with. The distance I walk is getting longer and longer. When I’m lucky, I get a donkey ride to shorten part of the journey. My children stay home alone for long periods of time."
The clinic, which also serves as a gender-based violence clinic, is located inside the Garissa County Referral and Teaching Hospital. The clinic is the only such establishment in the county and serves over 841,000 people living in an area of about 44,700 square kms. Clinic Coordinator Ms Nadhifa Ibrahim Mohamed explains the challenges that the clinic faces in providing lifesaving sexual and gender-based violence services.
“Since the beginning of the year, the clinic has managed almost 70 sexual and gender-based violence cases,” Nadhifa explains. “These include rape, attempted rape of girls and boys, and other types of violence. Unfortunately, in only a few cases the survivors agree to seek legal aid and report to the police. UNICEF continuously supports the center with survival kits that include clothes and hygiene items such as soap, undergarments, and other essential items.”
“However, there is a need for so much more,” she continues. "We only see the tip of the problem at the clinic. The survivors and their guardians often do not come to us because gender-based violence is considered a taboo subject. There is also limited knowledge about the services the clinic provides.”
"Even the medical staff working in the hospital may not be fully aware of the devastating impact of gender-based violence. They are unable to detect the signs of this in the patients they see, nor do they realize the importance of referring these cases as soon as possible."
UNICEF is training public sector workers on gender-based violence prevention, mitigation and response. The children’s organization is also working closely with education authorities to get out-of-school children back to school. As pastoralist families adapt their migration patterns to better cope with the drought, schools serve as a protective environment for children, especially adolescent girls who remain behind at home.
Decisive actions are needed across the board to address gender-based violence and inequalities in Kenya, including in drought-affected areas. Without this, children will continue experiencing violence in their communities and homes.
By Narine Aslanyan, Emergency Specialist, Gender