14 / 01 / 2021

Gender Based Violence and COVID-19: South Africa analysis

We are critically cognisant that South Africa is recognised as having one of the highest rates of inequality in the world.

We are critically cognisant that South Africa is recognised as having one of the highest rates of inequality in the world. We recognise that tackling deep inequalities requires an express recognition of the intersections of class, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and nationality.  And in embodying a feminist ethos we must ask a number of critical questions.  Today we are asking, how we can strengthen the capacity of leaders for social change and reimagine health, inequality and social systems, without considering gender-based violence (GBV)?  How do we understand and tackle inequality when not challenging the gendered power inequities that give rise to GBV?

South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence inflicted on women and girls in the world. A 2014 report by KPMG takes this statistic further in pointing out that GBV and violence against women in particular “is one of the most expensive public health problems globally and has a fundamental impact on economic growth, which can span several generations”.  Poor black women are the face of this health inequity.

While many a study has been concluded and far more news articles written, there is currently no comprehensive study on the impact and costs of GBV.  It is widely accepted that these studies can never represent a holistic picture for two primary reasons — the highly conservative nature of research methodologies, and, perhaps more significantly, the chronic and complex levels of underreporting.  However, even with poor methodologies and excessive levels of underreporting, the statistics remain grim.  And it goes without saying that GBV contributes significantly to the disease burden in our country.

Covid-19 adds to this pot. Like with other socioeconomic inequities, Covid-19 amplified the impact and resultant responsibilities on women, particularly those in precarious jobs, single parent households, frontline workers, the myriads engaged in the double burden of unpaid care work and those in abusive relationships. While there were questionable reports that there was a reduction in GBV during the national lockdown, 2 300 GBV cases were reported in the first week of lockdown alone. A July 2020 survey by the Foundation for Human Rights indicated that their community advice offices reported a 54% increase in GBV cases during lockdown across all provinces. But, as with other similar studies, they too cautioned about underreporting; this time, they attributed underreporting to restrictions on movement created by the lockdown.

The cases of GBV escalated following the opening of alcohol outlets at the end of the level 5 lockdown. Add to this the exacerbated chronic psychological distress women experience not only under lockdown, but as survivors of GBV and as our own research revealed, the less widely-reported violence women experience by simply being black women at the bottom of South Africa’s socioeconomic hierarchy, and therefore being “particularly vulnerable to job losses, lost income and an inability to access UIF funds”