'Women aren’t even safe online' – GBV webinar hijacked by hackers

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Illustration. Photographer: David Prado
Illustration. Photographer: David Prado
David Prado

A gender-based violence (GBV) dialogue aimed at addressing the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable groups such as women, children, the LGBTQIA+ community and persons with disabilities was, ironically, hijacked by hackers on Wednesday.

The meeting was then moved to another platform. 

"Women could not even meet safely online as the meeting was hijacked with graphic images, cyber violence," said the United Nations (UN) Women’s Anne Githuka, who felt that the cyber attack showed that vulnerable groups are not safe, even online. 

The Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, hosted the webinar to unpack how Covid-19 continues to have an impact on vulnerable groups.

Vulnerable

The current national lockdown has raised concerns from activist groups on how it would affect vulnerable groups in a country already dealing with high levels of violence.

In September last year, Ramaphosa announced a five-point emergency plan to put a halt to GBV during an extraordinary joint sitting. This came after an overwhelming number of reports of GBV and femicide in the country.

READ: Ramaphosa’s 5-point emergency plan to tackle gender-based violence

Deputy Minister of Women in the Presidency Hlengiwe Mkhize said that, while the fight against GBV had made gains since 2018, the lockdown had seen us "lose some gains".

"When we heard the Minister of Police expressing concern about the number of GBV calls to the police, it means we have lost some gains. Our presence, however, has still been felt. I mean us, as women, activists, feminists, we have been fighting, and even during Covid-19 women continue to say enough is enough," she added.

Shadow pandemic

Various stakeholders have come together to identify vulnerable groups and have suggested possible solutions to keep them safe during the lockdown.

UN Women referred to GBV as the shadow pandemic during this period, stating that command centres across the world are seeing a 30%-200% growth in calls received. In South Africa, statistics show that the national command centre received 12 000 telephone calls so far, News24 reported.

"When we identify who gets support first, we must look at the economic context, vulnerability to violence and HIV," Githuka added.

Advocate Brenda Madumise, a member of the steering committee on GBV, raised the safety of women in various sectors of society. This included women serving as essential service workers, who due to work commitments left their children unattended.

Children

"Children are left unattended. School is on, but there is no one supervising and then incidents of abuse increase. We need to pay attention to these women and ensure they are not violated in any form," she said.

Madumise also highlighted women who are informal traders, who have been granted permits to make a living and sell essential goods.

"We need a database of these women, so that we know the type of response we need to build up during Covid-19," she explained.

In addition, the plight of women working in the wine fields, who are allegedly being paid in alcohol and not wages, was raised. Also, the women in the entertainment industry, because the lockdown has brought their earnings "to a standstill".


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