Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks during the state funeral of Kenya's former president Daniel arap Moi, at Nyayo Stadium in the capital Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Daniel arap Moi, a former schoolteacher who became Kenya's longest-serving president and led the East African nation through years of repression and economic turmoil fueled by runaway corruption, died Tuesday, Feb 4, 2020, aged 95. (AP Photo/John Muchucha)

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has pledged millions of dollars in state funds on Friday, May 28, 2021 to help tackle a surge in gender-based violence during the pandemic, outlining plans to open women’s shelters across the country and improve policing.

Kenyatta said crime statistics showed cases involving violence against women had almost doubled between January and June 2020 compared with the previous year.

“Lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic’s social and economic impacts have increased exposure of women to physical, sexual and psychological violence, while at the same time limited their access to protective and recovery services,” Kenyatta told a conference on gender equality.

“This is now a crisis that we must address as a matter of urgency. Ending gender-based violence remains central to the development agenda,” he said, speaking by video link.

Kenya will invest $23 million by 2022 and a further $50 million by 2026 to help fight gender-based violence, vowing to establish shelters for victims across the country and boost police resources to handle gender crimes, he said.

Other commitments include implementing policies to stem workplace sexual harassment and making medical, legal and psychosocial support for victims’ part of the country’s universal health coverage scheme.

Kenyatta’s pledge comes ahead of UN Women’s Generation Equality Forum in Paris in June, where countries are expected to make bold commitments towards achieving gender parity.

Women’s rights groups – who have long campaigned for measures such as increased funding and shelters for survivors – welcomed the pledges made by Kenyatta, adding that they were willing to work with government to implement them.

“We’re very excited about the commitments made, they are quite bold and reflect all the critical asks from civil society,” said Judy Gitau, regional coordinator for Equality Now.

Gitau said the funding marked a vast improvement as the government’s previous allocation for gender-based violence was “miniscule” at about 200 million Kenyan Shillings ($1.86 million).

“But it is for us to ensure that these commitments are articulated as they should be … We have to follow up and ensure that they are delivered.”