Kenya needs an inclusive social protection policy

Doris is a 75 year old woman from the informal settlement of Kayaba in Nairobi. Like most families in the colony, her house is a dilapidated single room with mud walls, a corrugated iron roof and dirt floors. There is no running water and she shares public latrines with her neighbours. Doris, alias, lives with her late daughter’s six children, two of whom are mentally ill.

When the Covid-19 containment control measures kicked in, she was no longer able to sell detergent, which had enabled her to make a living. “I couldn’t keep buying medicine – at Kshs 100 (US$1) per pill – for my grandchildren,” she told us. “I tried to borrow money from friends, but they weren’t doing well either.” Doris and her grandchildren were often hungry: “It was difficult to get food. I was borrowing food, begging and buying food on credit, which I have yet to pay.

The effect of the lockdown persisted even after the government eased lockdown measures and Doris struggled to get her business back up and running.

His story is painfully familiar.

Human Rights Watch recently spoke with more than 100 people, mostly women, living in Nairobi’s informal settlements about the impact of Covid-19 on their lives. We have seen that the crisis has devastated the livelihoods of many people since March 2020, when authorities responded with strict measures to control the spread of the virus, including curfews, confinement orders, closures of schools and other movement restrictions.

Although the Kenyan government has sought to cushion the impact on the most vulnerable families whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the economic contraction caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, authorities have failed to design a program social security system that would ensure that those who needed help the most would receive it. As a result, many families, especially those living in informal settlements, faced extreme starvation and accumulated months of rent arrears, putting them at risk of eviction. This caused a lack of harmony in the families.

Human Rights Watch found that only a small fraction of families living in informal settlements benefited from the initially limited pandemic cash transfer program. What was otherwise a noble intervention was greatly undermined by negligence and inadequate oversight by the authorities. The program was characterized by lack of transparency, cronyism, nepotism and outright favouritism. Government officials did not follow the stated selection criteria or share information that should have allowed the most vulnerable families to register.

A glaring gap in Kenya’s response to the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as in its social protection schemes in general, is the absence of a gender-sensitive approach.

Poverty in Kenya has a female face. Women tend to be poorer than men and have less access to capital and assets needed for adequate livelihoods. Men participate more in the labor force and have more formal employment opportunities, which enjoy better job security protections, and they earn more than women. Data shows that in Kenya, women are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, seasonal workers, have less access to social protection and make up the majority of single-parent households.

The pandemic has not only affected the health and food security of millions of Kenyans, it has also deepened these pre-existing gender inequalities with a disproportionate impact on women and girls in multiple ways.

Most women in Kenya work part-time in the informal sector, including as domestic servants, food vendors and market vendors. They find themselves in situations where they cannot work remotely, causing them to lose income during pandemic restrictions, and their service sector jobs are often more precarious in terms of job security and safety nets. of security when crises such as Covid-19 hit the economy. Some studies have shown that more women than men reported suffering from hunger, domestic violence and difficulty accessing health care during the pandemic.

Around the world, including in Kenya, women often bear a disproportionate share of caring for children unable to attend school and sick family members, limiting the time they can devote to income-generating activities. of income. The repercussions of pandemic measures, including increased financial and food insecurity, lack of mobility, isolation or living in crowded conditions – especially for women and girls in settlements informal – and social stress have also increased the vulnerability of women and girls to gender-based violence.

It is unclear to what extent Covid-19 cash transfers and other social protection initiatives have benefited women, as data on coverage by social protection initiatives is not publicly available, disaggregated by gender. . However, when directed to the most vulnerable people and delivered in a transparent and accountable manner, cash transfers have the potential to protect women from gender-based abuses and contribute to gender equality.

Kenyan authorities should immediately address the shortcomings of current Covid-19 cash transfer programs, including by thoroughly revising and strengthening vulnerable household selection criteria and monitoring systems.

Authorities should also take steps to mitigate any further impact on women and girls of the Covid-19 crisis. Authorities should ensure that Covid-19 and other emergency or crisis response measures place a strong emphasis on protecting women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, and that women and people with expertise in gender-responsive planning are included in the development of social protection measures.

The ongoing health crisis, food insecurity, unemployment, high cost of living and lessons learned from Covid-19 social protection interventions clearly show that Kenyan authorities urgently need to put in place long-term social protection. term inclusive, gender sensitive and sustainable. program. Currently, there is neither legislation in place nor an institutional framework to standardize shock-responsive social protection in Kenya.

Every Kenyan has the right to an adequate standard of living. The Kenyan government has a duty to ensure that people like Doris have access to adequate food and freedom from hunger.

Agnes Odhiambo is senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Joel C. Hicks