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COVID-19 and young people in Nairobi, Kenya

Lynda Keeru attended the webinar, ‘The Gendered Impacts of COVID-19: Spotlighting Nairobi Youth Voices and Experiences’ and heard first-hand from young people in Nairobi.

Adolescence and the transition into adulthood is a critical period in the life of girls and young people across the world. It is a period when multiple, overlapping transitions define one’s life. During this time, young people face many risks as they take on responsibilities that mark the transition from adolescence to adulthood, such as becoming economically active and forming families. For young women, the risks and disruptions can be even higher. Their family responsibilities may clash with long-term goals of economic and reproductive empowerment. They may engage in unsafe economic activities or become wives and mothers early.

Faith, Naphtali, Maureen, David and Lydia have all had their lives disrupted by the pandemic. All lost their jobs and income due to the pandemic and because of this, were pushed to life in the slums. Those in school had their dreams cut short because of the closures. However, hope is still alive in these young people and all of them have made an attempt at starting their lives all over again.

Dr. Michele Decker, Bloomberg Associate Professor of American Health in Violence at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Dr. Peter Gichangi, Country Director at the International Centre for Reproductive Health Kenya, presented the results of a study they carried out to assess the different gendered impacts of the pandemic. They found that the privacy of young people was compromised because many household members were spending a lot more time at home. The decrease in privacy in the home disproportionately fell on young women. The study also revealed that the pandemic amplified the existing economic gender gaps and transactional relationships was a common way for young women to meet their needs. The disruptions of daily life and pandemic restrictions also raised concerns related to mental health and this was worrying because in countries like Kenya, the mental health support infrastructure is limited.

A gendered response

COVID-19 is not gender neutral and women, men and gender minorities are differently impacted. Global policies created to respond to outbreaks consistently fail to meaningfully include gender analysis. On the webinar a panel of policy-maker experts shared their opinions on what is required to provide a healthy, safe and easier transition to adulthood for the young people both during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Dr. Anne Kihara, President of the African Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, talked of the importance of sexual and reproductive health (including gender-based violence) and reminded the participants that it is important to take a multi sectoral approach because no one ministry, not even health, can know it all.
  • Julie Mwabe, Gender Advisor to the Office of the President of Kenya, reiterated that the presidency is committed to developing a comprehensive structure to get together all stakeholders around the table to develop programs to make the lives of the youth more bearable.
  • Virginia Nduta, Executive Director at the Women’s Empowerment Link, explained how the pandemic has revealed that many young women are undertaking unpaid care work and this has been exacerbated by early pregnancies. As a result, they are not able to get paid employment, which will have long term future impacts on human capital.
  • Anne Ngunjiri, Senior Technical Advisor with LVCT Health and the Gender and COVID-19 Project, shed light on intimate partner violence. Measures like curfews mean that young girls and women are being locked up with their abusers in the house making it more difficult for them to access the services that they ordinarily could get before COVID-19.
  • Dr. Grace Wamue-Ngare, Policy and Advocacy Lead at the Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ended the presentations by saying that the pandemic has presented an opportunity for entrepreneurialism and new technologies have made remote learning and access to new markets possible.

Overall, there was a strong message that policy makers should remember that nothing can be done for the youth without the youth. Any programming should ensure that the voices of youth are captured. Until programmers use a youth lens in programming, they’ll continue to make the mistake of developing programs, stimulus packages and social assistance interventions that are ‘one size fits all’. More investment should be made to ensure access to technology to amplify young people’s voices, especially for the most vulnerable youth who are continuously left behind.

Young people themselves are engaged and committed to trying to find solutions to existing issues. It is crucial to listen to them and have them inform advocacy and policy work and harness their energy and hope.

Panelists and Presenters:

Dr. Michele Decker — Bloomberg Associate Professor of American Health in Violence, Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Moderator and Presenter)

Dr. Rosemary Morgan – Assistant Scientist, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Presenter)

Dr. Peter Gichangi – Country Director, International Centre for Reproductive Health Kenya (Presenter)

Dr. Nancy Glass — Professor and Independence Foundation Chair, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (Moderator)

Dr. Anne Kihara – President, African Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (Panelist)

Julie Mwabe – Gender Advisor, Executive Office of the President of Kenya

Virginia Nduta – Executive Director, Women’s Empowerment Link (Panelist)

Anne Ngunjiri-Gakuya – Senior Technical Advisor, LVCT Health/Gender and COVID-19 Project (Panelist)

Dr. Grace Wamue-Ngare – Policy and Advocacy Lead, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub, Kenyatta University (Panelist)

Watch the full webinar ‘The Gendered Impacts of love: Spotlighting Nairobi Youth Voices and Experiences’ here.