Almost a quarter of young girls in parts of Kenya say Covid 19 has poisoned their romantic relationships and killed intimacy.
Meetings with their romantic partners are now fewer, shorter, and high in tension with less emotional and financial support.
Of three sampled counties of Nairobi, Kilifi and Kisumu, girls and young women, more so in the lakeside town say their romantic relationships have nosedived since the outbreak.
The requirements for people to observe distance, limit movement and wear face masks, a recent study say has smothered intimacy.
“There was a time when you met with, like your boyfriend, you would hug and maybe kiss,” said a 17-year old girl in Nairobi.
She went on: “But now, kissing is out of question. ……. even for a simple handshake, you fear getting the virus.”
The survey by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Population Council, involved 756 girls and young women in the three countries.
Participants were aged 15 to 24, were either married, cohabiting or in serious romantic relationships. Half of the participants were attending school before the Covid 19 outbreak.
Slightly more than half of the participants were in a serious relationship with about 20 percent being in a marriage.
About 70 per cent said they spent less time with their partner since the pandemic began.
“We wanted to find out how Covid 19 restrictions have affected girls’ and young women’s romantic relationship and how this informs on youth wellbeing,” says the report in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Nearly three-quarters of youth, the report says described changes in relationship quality since Covid 19 began, with 24 percent reporting worsening.
“Reduced time with partners was the strongest predictor of changed relationship quality.”
Girls in Nairobi told of how Covid 19 prevention measures led to tensions and conflict with their partners.
Limited interactions, they said instilled mistrust and fears of infidelity, especially in long-distance or non-cohabiting relationships.
Loss of income during the pandemic was also found to increase tensions in relationships.
“Girls often viewed their partners’ Covid 19 related income loss as a failure to provide for the couple, leading to suspicion, tensions, and relationship conflict,” says the study.
These situations, the report says could lead to separations, as girls sought other sexual partners to ensure their financial needs were met.
“Before Corona, he used to give me Ksh500 daily. Now, he is giving me KSh200. So, when he comes back, he finds me angry. There is no good relationship, so you cannot make love because you are angry,” said a 22-year-old from Nairobi.
But for school girls it was a totally different ball game, they found themselves with too much time on their hands and little else to do.
Across the three counties, girls said schools closure had given them more time to spend with their romantic partners.
During schools closure, explained a 20- year-old from Kilifi, when you visited the boyfriend and there was no school tomorrow you prolonged the visit. “…… and that’s how you end up getting into an early marriage.”
“Many participants’ perceived increased risks of early pregnancy and marriage related to school closures,” wrote the authors.
Covid 19, the report concludes has resulted to disruptions in adolescent girls’ and young women’s romantic relationships.
Some were deprived of their partner’s emotional support and exposing others to sexual violence and early pregnancy.
The authors recommend efforts be made to ensure that appropriate sexual reproductive health services are available to this group of girls and women.
By Gatonye Gathura