As it has with many other socio-economic conditions, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender-based violence, making women even more vulnerable.

“Women face a higher risk of GBV in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Limpopo MEC for Social Development Nkakareng Rakgoale. “The scourge of GBV is dubbed a second pandemic to the coronavirus and the vulnerable people of our society are victims of the violence.”

Rakgoale was speaking at a virtual event marking International Women’s Day on 8 March. International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year’s theme is ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world.’

Stripped of freedoms and dignity

But the MEC found little to celebrate, saying GBV has curtailed South African women’s ability to enjoy these freedoms. Crime statistics during this period also showed an increase gender-based violence across the country.

“Women are becoming an endangered species in this country. The number of women who are killed on daily basis in this country is alarming. The number of women who get violated through rape is astonishing. The number of women who are sexually harassed at work or devastating. Each day we see a dreadful episode of women being stripped of their dignity,” said Rakgoale.

The MEC called on the national police service to commit more resources to addressing GBV in communities.

“We also call on the courts to refuse bail to perpetrators of domestic abuse as in most cases such perpetrators go on to kill their spouses whilst on bail,” she said. “We further call on the court to impose harsher sentences on those who are found guilty of abusing women and children.”

Empowering women

The economic effects of the pandemic have also disproportionately affected women. More women have lost their jobs and slipped into poverty than men, statistic show. One way to help women leave abusive relationships was to ensure that they are economically independent, said Jeanette Mashigo of the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa. She urged the MEC and other authorities to help foster women’s social development.

“We would like to see prioritizing of women enterprises in all the procurement of our sector department in the province as well as  in the private sectors, because most of the families are women headed, those women being windowed, single, you can imagine how difficult it is for them to raise their children single-handedly,” she said.

“This will provide a solution to the dependence experienced by woman in abusive relationships that end up leading to gender-based violence, because they know very well that they do not have anything to do to support their children hence they choose to stay in those relationships that often end in their demise.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 35% of women globally will face sexual and/or intimate partner violence in their lifetime. And in humanitarian crises, levels of these and other forms of violence based on gender inequality grows more acute.

Women on the frontlines

Despite their vulnerability during the pandemic, women have also been at the forefront of the crisis. The MEC also took the opportunity to commend the contributions of women.

“I also want to take this opportunity to salute and commend all those women who are in the forefront of our fight against this pandemic. I talk of women doctors, women nurses, those women in health laboratories and all the women in the private and public healthcare system,” she said.

Globally, women were also on the front lines of the Covid-19 crisis, according to the United Nations (UN). As health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organisers and as some of the most exemplary and effective national leaders in combating the pandemic.

“The crisis has highlighted both the centrality of their contributions and the disproportionate burdens that women carry,” said the UN.— Health-e News