Girls and young women in Kenya face serious and heightened risks of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) amid fears of a sixth consecutive year of drought and an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
A study by the child rights NGO Plan International in Marsabit County, northern Kenya found that cases of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage and sexual harassment are on the rise amid continued food and water shortages shortage crisis.
One in 10 (10.9%) had personally known a girl or woman who had experienced sexual or gender-based violence in the six months before the survey.
The report found that the humanitarian crisis is compounded for women and girls by the lack of easily accessible support services for victims of gender-based violence, with only one in 10 respondents saying they were aware of services available to survivors sexual violence or other violations of personal security.
A sixth consecutive year of failed rains is expected
Despite the onset of “long rains” last month that led to flash floods in parts of Kenya, total rainfall is forecast to be below average, raising fears of an unprecedented sixth consecutive year of failed rains in the Horn of Africa – with Kenya, the worst Ethiopia and Somalia are affected.
Marsabit County is part of Kenya’s arid region and one of the worst affected by the prolonged drought, which has depleted about 98 percent of open water sources, according to the Kenyan government. Erratic rainfall and flash floods have worsened this fragile situation, especially for pastoralist communities, washing away the few crops that had been planted.
There are also fears that the floods will also contaminate water sources, reducing access to clean drinking water and increasing the risk of disease.
Of the families interviewed by Plan International, nine out of 10 households report that they have been forced to limit portions at mealtimes and reduce the number of meals they eat per day.
Worryingly, for six out of 10 households interviewed, the nearest water source is more than an hour away from their homes, meaning they face journeys of over two hours a day to collect water.
Journeys to find water fall to girls and women
These journeys often fall to girls and women, putting them at increased risk along precarious routes where they may face sexual harassment and violence.
The report and gender-based analysis is based on interviews with 460 households in Marsabit County, with key findings including:
Of all respondents interviewed, more than one in 10 (10.9%) knew of a woman or girl who had experienced sexual or gender-based violence in the past six months.
Almost one in five (18.3%) of those surveyed said fears for their personal safety had increased since the start of the drought and humanitarian crisis.
Reported cases of sexual or gender-based violence identified by girls and young women were as follows: early or forced marriage (39.3%), rape (12.4%), sexual harassment (16.9%), genital female mutilation (16.9%), domestic violence (14.6%).
For women and girls who experienced gender-based violence, only 10% reported accessing support services.
40% of women and girls of reproductive age report that they lack sanitary supplies and struggle to manage their menstrual cycles. Only one in five (18.4%) have access to washing and disposal facilities and only one in five (19.7%) have access to disposable sanitary napkins.
20.2% of women interviewed said they live in insecure housing, often without locks on their homes.
School attendance has fallen, and while before the drought 61% of respondents said their children attended school, this figure has now dropped to 51% of both girls and boys.
Girls and young women need our support
Plan International Kenya director George Otim said this report reveals that girls and women bear the brunt of the ongoing humanitarian crisis, a situation that requires urgent international attention.
“Girls and young women in Kenya need support now to ensure they have access to education and healthcare, without the continued threats of gender-based violence, as they go about their daily lives in already extremely difficult circumstances.”
“In addition to dealing with crippling food and water shortages after years of drought, girls and young women endure increasing levels of gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation and lack of access to basic menstrual health needs.” “
The report’s recommendations highlight the need for gender-based responses to food insecurity, improved access to water and sanitation, increased services to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, investment in schools and school feeding programs, and sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.