Aid groups say COVID-19 has caused greater suffering, both psychologically and economically, to women compared to men, especially in developing countries like Kenya. One aid group took it upon itself to step in and make a difference.
Kenyan beautician Cynthia Okewe was full of hope when the business she opened four years ago started making a profit.
But the COVID-19 pandemic slashed her income by more than 80%, making daily life a struggle and sending her into a deep slump.
“So many people have died and done so many things because of COVID. And now, even me, myself, I got the counseling because I needed to understand myself and know and cope with the COVID-19 and know what’s going on around me so that I can cope well without hurting myself, because I got into depression because of COVID-19,” she said.
Okewe received telecounseling help from the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) in Nairobi’s Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum.
The counselors target women and girls, who they say are more vulnerable to pandemic shocks than men because of fewer jobs and higher job losses. Nerea Akoth, lead counselor at the organization, says woman have been hit on multiple fronts.
“With COVID, a lot of things have happened. We’ve seen an economy that has gone down. We’ve seen jobs have reduced. So, even the small jobs that are available for the women is no longer there. So, women are actually strained, and they find themselves in tight situations. They have to provide, yet there are no job opportunities,” Akoth said.
The counseling service is supported by aid group Care International, in Kenya, which has been advocating for women’s rights for more than two decades.
Dorothy Aseyo, senior manager for the women’s voice and leadership program, told VOA that while the COVID-19 pandemic posed a new challenge, the group managed to help about 9,000 women so far.
“The psycho-social aspect has come in very strongly because of the need of differentiated impacts of either COVID-19 or any other issues that women and girls have been facing in Kenya. And this actually has meant that we need to support them to receive psycho-social support because of the mental health issues and also the other effects of COVID-19 on their health,” Asyeo said.
The U.N.’s COVID-19 gender assessment report, released last December, found that nearly half of female-led households affected by COVID-19 needed economic and social support.
For thousands of women like Okewe, the counseling has provided a much-needed lifeline.