COVID-19 has had disastrous economic and social effects on populations around the globe. While these effects are felt by many, women often experience outsized impacts. Studies from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Development Programme, and International Labour Organization show that government lockdowns and school closures have forced many women to take on additional burdens in unpaid domestic work and childcare, causing some to quit their own jobs. Heightened levels of stress and hardship combined with the inability for women to leave home freely have led to increases in gender-based violence. School closures have also put girls at an increased risk of gender-based violence, and early pregnancies and reduced their access to education and facilities related to menstrual hygiene.
With this background, UN Women, along with the Kenyan government and other partners including United Nations Population Fund, Oxfam, and Unilever, conducted an assessment of the disparate effects of COVID-19 on women and men. GeoPoll, a pioneer in providing remote, mobile-based research solutions throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia, and Ipsos collected the primary data for the study. The aim of the study was to analyze the gendered socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 in Kenya and provide policy recommendations to guide responses and recovery plans.
Data for this study was collected from August to September 2020 via GeoPoll’s Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) application. CATI calls were made from a local call center using interviewers trained by GeoPoll in conjunction with UN Women, and respondents could choose to respond in either English or Swahili. A separate SMS-based survey was conducted on gender-based violence due to the sensitive nature of the questions asked. SMS allows respondents to answer in private, making it an ideal mode for asking sensitive questions.
The sample size for the CATI study was 2,587, and respondents were randomly selected from a larger sample of 36,884. The sample was stratified by age, gender, and place of residence (county) based on the 2019 Kenyan National Bureau of Statistic Census. The CATI study ran in two waves, with each wave having its own questionnaire covering different topics. Only individuals who completed both waves were included in the final sample of 2,587. The SMS survey had a separate sample of 2,482. The split between men and women was roughly equal for the CATI study, and the largest group of respondents were aged 25-34 in accordance with the demographic profile of the country. Respondents from all 47 counties in Kenya were included to ensure an even coverage of urban and rural areas.
Based on this study, the results across a range of categories demonstrate that women in Kenya are feeling the effects of COVID-19 more than their male counterparts. More than 20% of women have lost all sources of income during the pandemic compared to 12% of men. Fewer women (68%) than men (76%) claim to have access to money for their own decision making. Women also report greater increases in domestic work, childcare, and homeschooling during the pandemic compared to men. All these factors suggest a decline in women’s economic empowerment due to the pandemic.
While more men than women say they have been unable to access healthcare for chronic illnesses due to COVID-19, women report disruptions in access to maternal health and healthcare services related to gender-based violence. Women also report higher levels of COVID-related mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety. Our study shows that more than 90% of women say they have no or decreased access to menstrual hygiene products due to COVID-19.
According to our study, acts or threats of violence occurred both in and outside the home during the pandemic. Physical violence was the most common form reported in urban areas, while women in rural areas report higher incidences of child marriage. Discussions with key informants revealed that overall incidences of violence increased during lockdown phases of the pandemic, and 35% of women say they do not know where to seek help.
The full results of this study can be found in the UN Women’s COVID-19 Gender Assessment Report. GeoPoll’s results have been used by UN Women and partners to create concrete policy recommendations for the Kenyan government and other stakeholders to improve services for women during the pandemic. The recommendations include increasing stimulus packages to women-owned small and medium enterprises, providing access to free internet or digital services for children to continue education, providing menstrual hygiene products through public facilities, and sending SMS messages with information on where to seek help in the case of gender-based violence.