In a recent speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa made a very bold statement. He said, “South African men have declared war on women during the Covid-19 period.”
His statement was spot-on as the stats that were being reported were horrifying. The national government’s gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide command centre recorded that more than 120 000 victims called the national helpline for abused women and children in the first three weeks after the lockdown started – double the usual volume of calls.
Gender-based violence increased 500% since the start of the lockdown. The lockdown provided a” perfect storm” for a GBV crisis, not only in South Africa but also in the rest of the world. Approximately 90 countries were in lockdown and four billion people were sheltering at home from due to the pandemic.
The confinement exacerbates the tension and strain created by security, health and money worries. It is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. It’s a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors. As health systems are stretched to breaking point, domestic violence shelters are also reaching maximum capacity, made worse when centres are repurposed for additional Covid-19 response.
Women forced to adapt their lifestyles
Before the pandemic, women said they found everyday activities such as walking in the street, going to gym or using public transport to be an anxious exercise due to the rise in gender-based violence.
According to the latest statistics verified by Africa Check, South Africa’s femicide rate is five times the global average – with a woman being murdered every three hours in South Africa. This contradicts what South Africa stands for, a nation of “Ubuntu.”
Sivuyisiwe Wonci, a researcher at the Institute for Gender Studies at the University of South Africa, said gender-based violence takes away from women’s confidence, freedom of movement and opportunities.
GBV is a public health issue in South Africa and contributes to high rates of mortality and morbidity among women. It puts women at risk of life-threatening physical, emotional, and psychological illness. It threatens women’s dignity, safety and security both in public and private spaces.
The cost of GBV to the economy
Using a conservative estimate, gender-based violence costs South Africa between R28.4-billion and R42.4-billion per year – or between 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP annually. It prevents the economy from attaining its full potential and this effect will be seen in several generations.
Support for survivors
While South Africa is a signatory to a number of international treaties on GBV, and has a strong legislative framework, for example, the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) (1998), the Sexual Offences Act (2007) and the Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Human Persons (2013) Act, these Acts don’t seem to be enough to combat the scourge. This has led to South Africans standing together to play their part to make a difference by fighting for women rights to living safely. One such organisation is a group of women from Gauteng’s Tembisa township that formed ♯OurLivesMatter. Marcia Semelane, the chair of the organisation, says it takes months for rape and gender-based violence victims to receive counselling. It makes them feel neglected and causes them to blame themselves for the crimes committed against them. There is also a lack of support for victims when they need to appear in court. It is often daunting and leaves victims exhausted by how long it takes to get the suspects convicted.
Women find it difficult to find relevant information to open cases and the information is not easily accessible. Women are sent from pillar to post when wanting to report crimes – and end up feeling judged by the very person appointed to assist them.
In some instances, victims are not supported by the investigating officers and the community, so they tend to stop going to court and cases fall through the cracks.
#OurLivesMatter has partnered with other community organisations to ensure that abused women and children receive efficient support. They work closely with the Vukamusha Foundation and Bombani Shelter in Alexandra and are constantly making new contacts to learn from other organisations.
Brand South Africa, the official marketing agency of the country, has for many years recognised the massive need to help GBV victims and has been advocating for members of the community to play their part in providing solutions. It launched the Play Your Part programme in 2013, aimed at all South Africans – from corporates to individuals, NGOs to government, churches to schools, young to not-so-young, with the objective to inspire, empower and celebrate active citizenship in South Africa.
It aimed to lift the spirit of our nation by inspiring all South Africans to contribute to positive change, become involved and start doing – because a nation of people who care deeply for one another and the environment in which they live is good for everyone.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, Brand South Africa created the Play Your Part Virtual Series. It aims to inspire and ignite South Africans to take action and make a difference in their communities despite the pandemic. In one of the episode the organisation collaborated with the TEARS Foundation to encourage women to speak up and contact TEARS for assistance. Brand South Africa also collaborated with Growing Up Without a Father Foundation to provide a support structure to men who are battling with issues of abuse.
“Gender-based violence needs to be addressed from a relational and societal perspective if South Africa hopes to find a solution. The women of South Africa have for years been given advice on how to avoid gender-based violence, but at Brand South Africa we believe that men now need to be encouraged to take a greater stand and play their part in providing solutions,” said Sithembile Ntombela, the general manager for marketing at Brand South Africa.