A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

In one woman’s story, a glimpse at global COVID trends

3 min
A Kenyan woman wearing a mask stands in a hallway waiting for food rations.
Photo by Fredrik Lerneryd | Getty Images
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives around the world, data increasingly shows the disproportionate effect that it’s having on women, and on women in poverty, in particular. One reason for this is that women in low- and middle-income countries work overwhelmingly in now-inaccessible spaces (like people’s homes and public markets) and are provided less access to government support.

When COVID-19 struck, researchers in Kenya spoke to women they had come to know well to learn about the impacts of the pandemic in their lives. One such woman, whom we’ll call Faith, shared her story with us, and now, we’re sharing it with you. Out of respect for her privacy, we won’t show her face or other identifying details, but you can glimpse her life through her words and through photographs of her environment.

A brave move

Last year, Faith did one of the bravest things a woman can do: She left her abusive husband and took her two children to live with her mother at her grandfather’s home. Then COVID-19 destroyed her mother’s vegetable business: It was hard to get to the market, the operating hours kept changing, and good produce became scarce. Faith was also having trouble finding casual work, and the bills started piling up. To relieve the financial pressure on the household, Faith’s grandfather asked her to leave.
A house in a rural Kenyan neighborhood.
A home in Faith's grandfather's neighborhood

Back home

With nowhere else to go, Faith had to go back to her husband and his family. She’d originally left when she’d gone into premature labor after one of his beatings, and her child died after three days. Faith says that her husband hasn’t been violent since she moved back but admits that “sometimes I can see he is this close to punching me.” She also talks about the constant emotional abuse she suffers from his family, particularly his mother, who blames Faith for her own financial problems.
A courtyard in a Kenyan home has a tin-walled shack in the background with a laundry line extending from the corner of the roof.
A courtyard similar to Faith's in-laws' home.

Children coping

When her children were in school, she knew they’d get lunch every day. If she couldn’t afford to pay for it, the teacher would advance her money for a few days. Now, if she’s short, they don’t eat. Her 8-year-old son, now constantly exposed to his stepfather’s explosive temper, has started pushing back against his mother and refusing to do his homework.
Children sit and look at a blackboard hanging above a chicken coop.
Faith’s son looks into his grandfather’s hen coop that is also used as a blackboard.

Harvests of rain

In Kiambu, the price of maize shot up (from 90 to 140 shillings), so Faith and her children eat whatever she can grow. “This past Sunday,” Faith said when she was interviewed, “we almost slept hungry... I just boiled some kale for the children and they ate it by itself.” Her in-laws don’t share food with her or her children. They can’t afford to buy tanks of water, so they’re harvesting rainwater instead.
Children walking through corn stalks in rural Kenya.
A neighbor's maize fields.
Discover more stories like Faith’s in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers report, which offers global perspective on the pandemic.