The COVID19 pandemic has produced a number of challenges, however the devastating impact for the trajectory of women’s rights will remain even after a vaccine is produced. In mid–March of this year, the government of Kenya decided to close schools for safety reasons. The effect of the closure on the female demographic has been palpable as many young girls have become vulnerable to the risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), teen pregnancy and child marriage.
Whilst FGM is officially prohibited in Kenya, it is still practised by a select few tribes. The prevalence of FGM dropped from 28 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2014, since the enactment of the law in 2011. However, the COVID19 pandemic has dramatically changed the environment regarding the policing of FGM. Thus, women’s rights are threatened in Kenya, with young girls having lost the protection of the school environment and community.
Talaso Gababa, a spokesperson for the medical organisation, Amref Health Africa comments that, “before this corona crisis, schools were functioning as a strong safety net.” Furthermore, Gababa explains that, “teachers educated children about the risks of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)… this prevented many parents from having daughters circumcised.” However, as girls remain at home, many are at risk of being forced into marriage at a young age. The predominant belief in many tribes in Kenya, specifically the Somali–Ormo ethnic group and the Maasai people, is that girls are ready for marriage post circumcision.