OPINION | We are not hearing enough about protecting abused women amid this pandemic

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

A few days ago, I was abused and verbally attacked by a law enforcement officer for - as he put it - driving too slowly in the fast lane.

The interaction was humiliating and left me feeling helpless after being threatened with arrest for annoying the officer as he was unable to overtake. I had an upcoming turn and needed to be in that specific lane - and do you see how I have to explain myself despite not doing anything wrong or illegal. 

This is a common thread that runs through our lives as women. We are constantly forced to defend our right to exist to men who believe they have a birth-right to oppress and harass us.  

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

The officer hurled insults at me and reminded me: "It will cost me nothing to lock you up and leave you crying in a jail cell."

The 15-minute attack was specifically orchestrated to remind me who is in charge - just in case I thought I had a right to be on the road. It was designed to force me to apologise for my existence on the road at that point in time.

Those 15 minutes left me feeling defeated. Call it toxic masculinity or the police overreaching - ultimately, it's abuse. And, this sort of encounter is not the first, neither will it be the last incident of abuse I (and thousands of other women) have to endure as punishment for being a woman.

READ MORE: Undercover Facebook beauty page lets Polish women report abuse, plus how to find help locally

Even so, I am incredibly privileged, because all it took was my brother, who was with me at the time, admitting to my "mistake" and apologising profusely for us to be dismissed from this abusive interaction.

What about women who live with these sorts of monsters every day and find themselves locked up with them during lockdowns?

Women's rights organisation, Masimanyane warns that "men can use the threat of a pandemic to initiate or increase the physical isolation [and abuse] of women," which renders them more vulnerable to abuse.

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

In a previous W24 interview, I spoke to Given Sigauqwe, communications, and strategic informations manager at Sonke Gender Justice. He explained the crisis at hand more adequately than most have: Women are stuck between two pandemics, one being the coronavirus and the other, gender-based violence.

However, billions of rands have been set aside to fight the one pandemic while the other is left to thrive. Women receive a rare line, perhaps two, in Covid-19 briefings with a vague, "provisions have been made to assist women and children" as a common theme of these talks. It is not enough.

READ MORE: Heterosexual men in red lipstick will not put an end to violence against women and children

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.

Women & Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) has highlighted an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) and child abuse amid the Covid-19 lockdown as a crisis that requires urgent attention in South Africa. According to Police Minister Bheki Cele, the South African Police Service had received 2,320 complaints of Gender-Based Violence in the first week of the lockdown—37% higher than the weekly average for 2019.

The stats are there.

How quickly we have forgotten about Frances Rasuge, Karabo Mokoena and Uyinene Mrwetyana, among hundreds of other women we have lost their lives at the hands of abusers!

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

During lockdowns, women are not abused for a few minutes, it's days on end, and now that we're all confined to our homes, weeks of non-stop verbal, emotional, financial and physical abuse. 

Yet, we haven't heard of any budget specifically allocated to removing abused women from their abusers and having them quarantined or in lockdown at safer locations.

We are yet to hear of mechanisms in place to assist women who are not able to seek refuge with family and friends or call for help.

Women abuse has become such an integral part of our lives that it is so easily ignored, and the women have to take it silently, locked in and alone.

Surely, there's something very wrong with this approach. 

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

In the meantime, while government is actively protecting the nation from Covid-19, if you are an abused woman, you are probably alone.

WMACA offers the following safety tips if you feel unsafe at home during the lockdown:

For those with access to the internet and a phone

· Phone the Government hotline: 0800 150 150

· GBV command centre: 0800 042 8428

· Childline toll-free hotline: 0800 055 555

· Another helpful resource for vulnerable families is rAInbow. Developed by AI for Good, in partnership with the Soul City Institute for Social Justice and Sage Foundation, rAInbow is a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to chat with users and provide accurate information on domestic violence. 

· Know where the nearest phone is. If you have a mobile phone, try to keep it with you.

· Keep any important and emergency telephone numbers with you and try to memorise some.

For those who cannot access phones or the internet

· Identify neighbours you could trust and where you could go in an emergency. Tell them what is happening and ask them to call the police if they hear the sounds of a violent attack.

· Pack an emergency bag for yourself and your children in case you need to flee. Hide it somewhere safe (for example, at the house of a neighbour or friend). Try to avoid mutual friends or family members.

· Plan your response to crises that may arise in your home. Think about the different options that may be available to you.

· Rehearse an escape plan, so in an emergency, you and the children can get away safely.

· Be prepared to leave the house in an emergency.

· Most importantly, tell someone.

Are in lockdown with an abuser? How have you coped during this time? .

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