Supporting people who experience violence during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Joseph Etyang

Cases of gender-based violence have been on the increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has not spared anyone including people who are living with a disability. As a deaf counselor, I have received many cases of clients who are going through a difficult time during this pandemic.

During a routine antenatal clinic visit, one of my young female clients approached me. She told me that she was having challenges. I was concerned since she is pregnant.

The young woman was jobless. She planned to join college again after delivering her baby. She would live with her parents who would help her and look after her child. The pandemic, however, increased her uncertainty. As if this was not enough, her boyfriend had lost his job too and was unable to support her at this time. The financial stress created tension between them that even resulted in emotional and physical violence. The conflicts and violence were a threat to their relationship.

At this time, I decided to offer mental health therapy to the young woman. We talked about her current situation, her health and wellbeing as a pregnant woman. After a lengthy discussion, she agreed that she needed to talk with her boyfriend on the importance of taking care of her, the relationship and the unborn baby now more than ever. We planned that I meet both together.

He accepted my invitation, and they came together for a counselling session. Since sexuality education is absent in Kenyan school curricula, I helped the boyfriend understand the partner’s situation and vulnerability as a pregnant woman. His violence against her was a risk to the unborn baby and the expecting mother. Stress could cause her a miscarriage and other complications. Through his violent acts, he put himself at risk of being arrested. During the counselling session, they agreed to look for alternative ways of earning a living. The boyfriend agreed to look for some casual job, while the young woman would follow-up on the funds that have been disbursed by the government in support of vulnerable members of the community during this pandemic.

I am against gender-based violence – it causes a lot of problems psychologically, emotionally, physically and literally affects the well-being of the family. Gender based violence results in self-esteem issues and traumatized individuals and children are mostly affected.

In my experience gender-based violence often results in  sexual abuse and exposes  the children to the same. Gender based violence prevents economic growth from the couple because of lack of empowerment. In other cases, it might result in untimely deaths, poor environment to the children and sexual diseases. Some  women may engage in sex work to be able to economically support their family during  these periods; this may exacerbate household tensions and associated violence due to a reliance on sexual relationships outside of the household.

Joseph Etyang is a Kenyan deaf man who works as a counselor with LVCT Health. He is involved in HIV and gender-based violence prevention programmers and supports the Nairobi deaf community through their support groups.