Abuse increases during lockdowns: Women stuck between 2 pandemics, coronavirus and gender-based violence

Illustration. Photo by Getty Images
Illustration. Photo by Getty Images

The National Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Command Centre has received three times the amount of calls from women who are trapped with their abusive partners during the national lockdown. Police Minister, Bheki Cele, says the police received more than 87 000 GBV calls in just the first week of the national lockdown.

Globally, lockdowns have resulted in an increase in domestic violence and abuse, leaving women vulnarable and in danger. 

In Hubei province, China, domestic violence reports to police have more than tripled. Tunisia has reported a five-fold increase in violence against women. In Northern Ireland, there's been a 20% increase in domestic abuse reports, and in Paris, there's been an increase of 32%, according to Insurance provider, 1st for Women.

READ MORE: Here are 5 apps developed to help keep women safe

In a previous W24 article, we reported that three women are killed by their male partners in SA daily, and we have the world's highest rate of rape. This is on a regular day, under ordinary circumstances. However, it's undeniable that life in the time of coronavirus has caused heightened emotions and anger among ordinary citizens.

Unfortunately, this is also a time when abusers thrive. Women's rights organisation, Masimanyane, notes that as men lose jobs due to the pandemic, they will be home for more extended periods "and tensions are likely to rise as a result". In addition, "men can use the threat of a pandemic to initiate or increase the physical isolation of women," which renders them more vulnerable to abuse. 

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Registered counsellor, Phumzile Ndlovu, explains some of the dynamics that may lead to escalated violence.

"As a couple tries to adjust to changes in their daily routine, it can bring about a rise in stress levels due to financial concerns, job uncertainty, dealing with being isolated from social circles and stress over resources such as food," she says. 

The victim becomes even more vulnerable as they are trapped with their abusive partner. 

"A lockdown can bring about feelings of frustration, helplessness, and a sense of being overwhelmed as people are trying to adjust to changes that have occurred due to the coronavirus. It takes away a sense of control, and the abuser may want to gain that sense of control in one aspect of their life by using an unhealthy coping mechanism such as abusing their partner."

 READ MORE: What we've learnt from the Gender-based Violence and Femicide Summit

Many abused women rely on social support from family, friends, women's organisations, and counsellors to cope with their circumstances - but that has been limited.

According to Masimanyane, the removal of women's social support system causes increased levels of anxiety.

Given Sigauqwe, communications and strategic informations manager at Sonke Gender Justice, agrees, saying that women are stuck between two pandemics, one being the coronavirus and the other, gender-based violence.

"As we are taking measures like social distancing and the self-isolation to curtail the spread of Covid-19, the direct relationship between the coronavirus pandemic and the rising levels of gender inequality and gender-based violence cannot be overlooked. The vulnerability also extends to children, with girls being particularly at risk of sexual violence," he says.

READ MORE: AT A GLANCE: SA has the highest number of reported rape cases in SA

Sonke Gender Justice encourages keeping in touch with each other virtually during the lockdown. 

"Now more than ever, we need to check in on each other not only regarding our safety as we navigate our way through the virus, but also ensuring that our loved ones are safe from violence. We also need to ensure that we do not outsource the responsibility of ending injustice and reach out and help individuals that need the help during this period," says Given.

Victims who are faced with gender-based violence during the lockdown period may feel a sense of helplessness as they may not know how to cope, says Phumzile.

She encourages abused women to seek help.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact one of the organisations below:  

Gender-based violence Command Centre: “Please call me” facility: *120*7867# Emergency line: 0800 428 428 

POWA helpline: 0116424345 

SADAG has a whatsapp counselling line that operates from 9am to 4pm: 076 882 2775

To speak to a SADAG counsellor: 0800 567 567

Tears Foundation helpline: *134*7355#

How has lockdown affected you? .

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