My name is Geraldine D. Kavembe. I am a DAAD Alumna and did my PhD at the University of Konstanz with a scholarship jointly offered by DAAD and the Government of Kenya under the Kenyan-German Postgraduate Training Programme. I am the National Vice secretary of the Kenya DAAD Scholars Association, KDSA. I am a lecturer and the coordinator of the Gender Mainstreaming Unit at South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU).
The first case of COVID-19 in Kenya was reported on 15th March 2020. As I watched the announcement by the President on TV, I remember thinking that it was time for us scientists to step forward to help our nation. But then I thought: I am a fish scientist, and the problem is not an alien fish species in our lakes requiring urgent genetic identification - how then would my knowledge help halt an infectious pandemic? Let the medical fraternity save the situation, I told myself as I resigned to fate.
Eventually, the government closed all learning institutions and we were forced to work from home. Being a mother to two teenage girls and a toddler, a lecturer, the head of the gender Unit at our university and a researcher with regular field trips, this meant many adjustments to my daily life. At the university, the end-of-semester exams were two weeks away, and the semester was to end on a high note with the launch of the “Gender Equality Champions Club”, a brainchild of my unit that brings together students committed to advancing gender equality and breaking down traditional gender barriers. As I asked our publisher to halt the printing of materials for the event and informed my students that classes were postponed, I felt drained, tired, and confused. How could I possibly think with so much uncertainty? What becomes of my fieldwork scheduled in a months’ time? How would I finalise writing two grant proposals and manuscripts sitting on my desk with the children at home?
One day I came across an opinion article on the possible impacts of the Corona virus pandemic on gender-based violence (GBV). The author suggested that there would be a surge in cases if early interventions were not put in place. This corresponded with preliminary results from a study by our Gender Unit in which we had noted that most GBV cases are reported during weekends and holiday seasons when families come together. Yet to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, people are urged to stay at home, effectively endangering vulnerable persons. Friends who live in countries that have had the stay-at-home orders and lockdowns initiated earlier confirmed to me: GBV cases are on the rise.
As a young girl in rural Kenya, I witnessed gender-based violence first-hand, mainly in impoverished homesteads and families in which parents engaged in illicit brews. Lacking role models, children from such homesteads became subjects of early pregnancies, forced marriages or sexual assault by relatives, drug abuse and crime, and the same cycle of poverty and violence would be repeated. I longed to find a way to help in fighting this social evil. That’s way I am today a firm campaigner against GBV.
I came across a call for volunteer experts in proposal writing for a COVID response initiative by the Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA), an outfit bringing together Kenyans living abroad who actively participate in national affairs back home and now mobilise resources to respond to the pandemic. I joined the taskforce mandated to develop a package to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) and sustainability kits to be used during and after the pandemic. We identify needs at the county level and in selected hospitals, as well as possible suppliers, mainly among small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Even more important for me, we also fight gender-based violence.
Although we are still at the planning and mobilization stage, I am excited to be part of this visionary team. I am so grateful to have a chance to combine my professional training as a scientist – which qualifies me to analyse situations and observations and to predict likely outcomes, consequences and the impact (costs) - and my passion as a gender equality champion.
How am I coping with work at home with the babies? It’s a struggle. Many a times I have had to work with the toddler sitting on my lap or hanging on my chair. As for the teen girls, we are drawing, cooking and do storytelling.
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