Girls in Kenya face violence as further drought expected

26 April 2023

Girls and young women in Kenya are facing serious and increased risks of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) amid fears of a sixth successive year of drought and an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

A survey by child rights NGO Plan International, carried out in Marsabit County, northern Kenya, found incidents of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage and sexual harassment are reported to be on the rise amid an ongoing food and water scarcity crisis.

One in 10 (10.9%) personally knew of a girl or woman who had suffered sexual or gender-based violence in the six months prior to the survey.

The report found that the humanitarian crisis is being compounded for women and girls by a lack of readily available support services for survivors of gender-based violence, with just one in 10 of the respondents saying they were aware of available services for those experiencing sexual violence or other personal security violations.

Sixth successive year of failed rains expected

Despite the arrival of the ‘long rains’ last month, bringing flash flooding to parts of Kenya, rainfall overall is forecast to be below average leading to fears of an unprecedented sixth successive year of failed rains across the Horn of Africa – with Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia worst hit.

Marsabit County is part of Kenya’s arid region and one of the areas hardest hit by the prolonged drought, which has depleted an estimated 98% of open water sources, according to the government of Kenya. Erratic rainfall and flash flooding has made this fragile situation worse, particularly for pastoralist communities, washing away those few crops which had been planted.

There are also fears that flooding will also contaminate water sources, reducing access to clean drinking water and increasing the risk of disease.

Of the families interviewed by Plan International, nine out of 10 households reported they were forced to limit portions at mealtimes and reduce the number of meals they eat daily.

Alarmingly, for six out of 10 households interviewed the nearest water source was more than an hour away from their homes, meaning they face journeys of over two hours daily to collect water.

Journeys to find water fall to girls and women

These journeys often fall to girls and women, placing them at increased risk along insecure routes where they may face sexual harassment and violence.

The report and gender-based analysis is based on interviews with 460 households in Marsabit County, with key findings including:

  • Of all the respondents interviewed, more than one in 10 (10.9%) knew of a woman or a girl who suffered sexual or gender-based violence in the past six months.
  • Almost one in five (18.3%) of respondents said fears for their personal safety have increased since the start of the onset of the drought and humanitarian crisis.
  • Reported incidents of sexual or gender-based violence identified by girls and young women were as follows: early or forced marriage (39.3%), rape (12.4%), sexual harassment (16.9%), female genital mutilation (16.9%), domestic violence (14.6%).
  • For women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence, only 10% reported having access to support services.
  • 40% of women and girls of reproductive age reported they lack sanitary supplies and are struggling to manage their menstrual health. Only one in five (18.4%) have access to washing and disposal facilities, and only one in five (19.7%) have access to disposable sanitary pads.
  • 20.2% of women interviewed said they were living in insecure housing, often without locks on their homes.
  • School attendance has fallen, and while prior to the drought 61% of respondents said their children were attending school, this figure has now reduced to 51% of girls and boys.

Girls and young women need our support

Plan International Kenya Country Director George Otim said that this report reveals that girls and women are bearing the brunt of the ongoing humanitarian crisis, a situation which demands urgent international attention.

“Girls and young women in Kenya need support now to ensure they are able to access education and health, without the ongoing threats of gender-based violence as they go about their daily lives in what are already extremely difficult circumstances.”

“As well as dealing with crippling food and water scarcity following years of drought, girls and young women are enduring increasing rates of gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation and lack of access to basic menstrual health needs.”

The report’s recommendations highlight the need for gender-based responses to food insecurity, improved access to water and sanitation facilities, increased services to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, investment in schools and school-based meal programs, and sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls.