This past week has been an interesting one for us. We have learnt phrases such as “kunyonga monkey” which means to masturbate or to “take matters into your own hands” and
“kifo cha mende/cockroach style” which means the missionary sex position. But we were not out there looking to build our suggestive vocabulary – we were having conversations with young people in Nairobi as to how they have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We note that at the backdrop of rising positive COVID-19 cases in the country, our young people are continuously defying directives issued by health officials to stay home and exercise social distancing. They are still meeting up, hosting parties and even going on road trips claiming that with majority of people at home, roads are clearer and smoother to test the speed limits of their cars. We also saw the case where of a senior Red Cross official, worried that her child would be locked out in the curfew, dispatched an ambulance to go and collect her and her friends at a party, where they had been drinking.
Such reckless behaviour does nothing to help the situation we are already in. We are caught right in the middle of a pandemic that no one knows how and when exactly it will end. What we know however, is that it will not last forever. The only difference between us prevailing over this virus and it prevailing over us is our behaviour. Unfortunately, not much praise can be given to our habits.
Youth are living up to their reputation of being young and restless. But perhaps before we put a label on them, perhaps we should ask, why are the youth not heeding to advice?
In pursuit of an answer and our passion to understand people’s behaviour, we have been organising several online meetings with youth in Nairobi to hear what challenges they have been facing in the wake of COVID-19.
On sex and reproductive health, we have learnt that there’s been an increase in sexual activity. One of the participants said, “I have not had as much sex in my life as I have had in the last 5 weeks- I’m not even sure my coil will hold.” Sex has become not just a coping mechanism but also a pass time activity for many. Those who do not have their partners near have taken to masturbation because as they said, “it is safer than to risk getting someone’s daughter pregnant.”
We found that partners have coupled up (are living together) to weather the storm. Others are still visiting each other during off curfew hours and rushing home back home just before 7PM. “I live alone,” said one of the girls, “My boyfriend knows I live alone. I cannot tell him not to come despite fear that he might contract the virus on his way to my house and bring it to me. Otherwise he will feel like I am rejecting him or he will start feeling insecure.”
This poses a great challenge, not just in the spread if the virus but also in the spread of other sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. We noted considerable doubts as regards to the effectiveness of contraception methods. The issue was that “these things backfire” and when they do, catastrophe! Even though its scares them, abortion seems to be the only way they trust.
Our hearts were broken to hear that some on most informal settlements, girls are lacking sanitary towels. It is tragic to imagine the tremendous discomfort that these girls must be going through. With most of them having already lost their jobs, the little money they have is used up in food because “utabuy food ama pads? (What would you buy, food or pads?).
In our view, we see a reproductive crisis in the next 9 months and along with it, more challenges such as increased stress, anxiety and even suicide levels. Early and unwanted pregnancies are likely to lead to school dropouts as gender based violence escalates. The demand for contraption methods is going to be high, as well as cases of abortion.
Similar read: https://pov.thellesi.co.ke/strategy-is-not-a-buzzword/
There is need for the government and civil society organisations to understand these challenges so as to accurately address them.
We still don’t have all the answers. We continue to hold weekly online discussions with various focus groups so that we can understand why our young people are not staying home and how we can help them address the challenges they face now and after the pandemic.