Uphold the Rights of SGBV Victims in the COVID-19 Response in Kenya

By Prudence Mutiso

Attorney, International Justice Mission, Kenya

As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, many women and girls continue to face sexual and gender-based violence. According to UNDP, 243 Million women have suffered a form of violence in the past twelve months, with one in every three women facing some form of sexual and gender-based violence (“SGBV”) in their lifetime. In Kenya, data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey shows that 45 percent of women and girls face a form of gender-based violence annually, translating to close to eleven million women. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the violence against women in Kenya.

Between March 16th to April 1st, 2020, the National Council on Administration of Justice reported a significant spike in sexual offenses in many parts of the country with sexual violence cases constituting 35.8 percent of the cases reported during that period. UN organizations in Kenya attribute the rising SGBV cases to financial hardship due to restriction of movement and curfews affecting livelihoods, especially in the informal sector. The quarantine and social distancing requirements have also amplified individual stress levels leading to tense households with the risk of violence.

According to practitioners representing SGBV victims, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many SGBV cases. Since March 16th to date, cases have stalled as the courts have had to adjourn hearings, victims in new cases have experienced delays, and organizations discontinued the much-needed free counseling sessions. In the wake of the pandemic, the Kenyan Judiciary resolved to adapt technologically driven solutions to ensure the delivery of justice. However, in a country where only one in five people have access to internet services, access to justice has apparent challenges. For example, many indigent victims may lack the means or access to stable internet services in the city or rural Kenya and may end up missing court appointments. Also, in a bid to