NAIROBI, Kenya Mar 9 – Women and girls are among the heaviest casualties of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world, including Kenya where a high number of pregnancies on schoolgoing children was reported.
The country has also witnessed an unprecedented high number of job losses in all the sectors triggered by the tough economic times caused by the pandemic.
While both genders lost jobs, experts say women were most affected, including in the media sector where more than 400 journalists are said to have lost their jobs.
This emerged on Monday during an International Women’s Day Webinar organized by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in which featured a conversation with Judie Kaberia, Gender Trainer at JHR, Rachel Pulfer, Executive Director at JHR and Josephine Schmidt, Executive Editor at New Humanitarian.
The conversation focussed on the effects of COVID-19 on women and girls worldwide.
“Majority of these journalists who lost their jobs are female journalists,” she said, “and one of the reasons that are used to target the female journalists are issues like is she likely to get married, is she likely to be pregnant or take maternity leave. There is nothing professional relied on when a woman is supposed to be laid off, so most become a target because they are women.”
Kaberia said as a result of the layoffs, “we have ended up losing very good journalists and I can tell you from experience when a woman is in the newsroom they are given softer subjects like to cover events on the launch of products and so it becomes very difficult to climb up there and the biggest challenge, of course, is sexual harassment and others forms of intimidation and these undermines their performance.”
The Webinar also discussed sexual harassment which has been identified as one of the major challenges facing women at the workplaces, including news stations in Kenya, in what experts say hinders their career growth.
As a result of sexual harassment and intimidation, Kaberia said some women have ended up climbing the ladder to leadership positions prematurely while others fail to up there because they are firm in their morals.
“And this is why at JHR, we really hope that through the programs that we are employing including training female journalists, we always ensure that majority of the beneficiaries are women, and we have had fantastic story ideas being sent in from women and this is a win-win situation,” she said.
In supporting women journalists to deliver, Kaberia said JHR hopes to increase the percentage of issues on women that are covered in media.
“In Kenya, only less than 30 percent of issues to do with women are covered in the media and this is what we want to try to change,” she said.
She said JHR is already supporting journalists to stories on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is rampant in Kenya, underage pregnancies, and early marriages among others.
“These are serious issues that ail our society and which need to be exposed to attract action from policymakers,” she said.
The government has initiated various measures to support communities to end FGM.
“These are things that have escalated in the country, and the numbers keep going up,” she said and lauded community leaders, particularly women in various parts of the country who are standing up against the vice.
“I celebrate these women because some have even started shelter centers to fight this backward culture,” she said.
FGM is rampant in Maasai land, Kisii, Samburu among others.
On early marriages, Kaberia said school girls had opted to undertake menial jobs, particularly during COVID-19 when their parents lost jobs, particularly in the informal settlements and slums.
“These young girls end up being sexually harassed at work because they do not know their rights and this seriously compromises their right to education,” she said.
Recent studies by government and private agencies showed that more than 100,000 pregnancies were reported among school-going girls during the COVID-19 lockdown that forced the closure of schools.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi said Trans Nzoia county recorded 40,000 cases, the highest, across the country.
He has ordered the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators.
“That is the sad state we are in but we hope that this will change,” she said.
Josephine Schmidt, Executive Editor at New Humanitarian said the organization covers crises and vulnerable communities which navigate through very difficult circumstances daily, particularly women.
“We are trying to give women the opportunity to tell their stories and how they are affected in their day-to-day life, particularly during this pandemic,” she told the Webinar.
She said the pandemic had led to an increase in Gender-Based Violence and women in refugee camps were affected more.
She cited various examples, including Nepal where women told of horrendous stories on their experiences painting a desperate situation on what women and girls go through daily.