The reality of Women's Month: Depression, anxiety, GBV remain grave concerns for women

Illustration. (Getty Images)
Illustration. (Getty Images)
  • According to a recent Ipsos poll, 40% of South African women say they are feeling anxious as a result of Covid-19 compared to 32% of men.
  • Johannesburg-based business, life coach and Neuro-linguistic programming practitioner Shanaaz Sukhraj, notes that women are struggling to contain the guilt of floundering under added pressures.
  • These include months of home-schooling, extra housework, worrying about their parents’ health, and diminished social interaction with close friends while trying to run a business or work a full-day. 

Far from a time of empowerment and celebration, Women’s Month has seen depression and anxiety skyrocket among women as the boundaries of an already tenuous work-life balance have become increasingly blurred under lockdown. Add to that daily - literally daily - reported cases of femicide in our local news and one has to suggest that we rather not observe Women's Month at all if nothing is changing for women living in this country.

According to Johannesburg-based business, life coach and Neuro-linguistic programming practitioner Shanaaz Sukhraj (pictured below), the underlying tenet of Women’s Month, "you strike a woman, you strike a rock," is - in reality - nowhere near being internalised as women continue to struggle.

women's month depression
Image supplied by Boost Communications  

Marital pressures increase during lockdown

Marital relationships are also taking strain, says Shanaaz, who is experiencing her "busiest consulting time" since starting her coaching journey over 10 years ago.

"Many women are struggling to assign tasks to their partners who, in turn, are unaware of building resentment. Even in 2020, a high percentage of women are still subconsciously modelling their relationships on what they saw in their parents’ marriage, so they often feel ashamed to ask for help or stand their ground as the scales tip unevenly on the home chores front," she says. 

READ MORE: Experts reveal Broken Heart Syndrome cases are soaring amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Identity loss among women during lockdown

Many women who grapple with identity issues at the best of times find that this phenomenon has heightened under all levels of lockdown. "Many of my clients are questioning their career priorities with young kids in the house all day, having to take responsibility for home-schooling and round-the-clock parenting. They say that they’re afraid they’re losing their sense of self."

Shanaaz believes that there are solutions:

"Women have to learn how to stand their ground and tap into their power. Establishing boundaries will help women find some balance. We have to learn to stop over-giving while assigning tasks to our partners if they are not doing their share."

She says one client who hadn’t communicated her dissatisfaction eventually wrote down a list of what she wanted her husband to take care of. The surprise? He didn’t argue or complain. He did as she asked.

"Some people just need to be told what to help with or what to do at home," the practitioner notes.

In a classic case of ‘ask and ye shall receive’, Shanaaz says the letter or list idea worked seamlessly in another scenario. She recently encouraged one client who couldn’t confront her partner face-to-face to communicate about what she needed to change in the bedroom, using this way.

"Writing him a letter made all the difference. Far from wounding his ego, he was delighted. When things change for the better sexually, much in the relationship changes for the better." 

READ MORE: What is the 4-7-8 breathing technique and how can it calm my anxiety?

Depression and anxiety during lockdown

Besides depression, anxiety under Covid-19 has spiralled for many women, she says.

"Watching or listening to too much news only helps perpetuate the feeling that the world is out of control. It’s not hard to become a sponge for unnecessary negativity. A client who thought her childhood anxiety was under control found it was suddenly an issue again. She feared for her parents and her children’s health and was struggling to cope," she explains.

Neuro-linguistic programming which includes first finding out the root of that way of thinking as well as undergoing hypnosis or listening to hypnosis audios, can help change the narrative. 

Shanaaz Sukhraj highlights that her client needed to focus on the positives in her life, adding that sometimes even a gratitude journal can make a difference.

"It’s about reframing the events or helping to rationalise what’s going on with one’s emotions. Sometimes, especially in these last few months, some people need to directly confront a fear of death and move forward that way," she says.

Limiting beliefs

While Sukhraj says anyone suffering deep-seated trauma should see a therapist or psychiatrist, those women who want to focus on setting and achieving goals rather than focusing on past events may benefit from coaching work.

"It can involve hypnosis which gets to the heart of limiting beliefs. We usually have to get to a set of core beliefs planted before the age of eight-years-old and reframe these, so we don’t keep repeating past mistakes."

These, she says, include not being able to ask for help when we’re overwhelmed. It’s about reimagining our relationships so we find inner peace and an abundance not related to just material wealth.

"While sceptics may scoff at concepts like the laws of attraction, Shanaaz says that it’s sometimes just a question of getting in touch with and challenging our subconscious mind. It's not woo-hoo stuff. If you behave differently, your outcomes will be different.

Shanaaz Sukhraj will be launching the Goddess Within Membership Society - an online community of women who can support each other in September. Find her page here

GBV amid the pandemic 

In a previous W24 article calling out the lack of intervention for abused women during the pandemic, it was mentioned that 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. 

In this article, a harsh reality was highlighted about how we're at an intersection of two pandemics - Covid-19 and gender-based violence. Neither of which have a foreseeable end in sight. 

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

Between the government looting relief funds and a Police Minister threatened more by alcohol purchases than rapists, this point from the mentioned article written as far back as May must be reiterated;

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.  

This week we remembered Uyinene Mrwetyana - whose life was violently taken in August 2019 - in the midst of a chilling, growing catalogue of headlines of South African women's names who have been killed by men - many of whom were their intimate partners. 

An 8-year-old girl was raped by a policeman in the Eastern Cape in August.

Asithandile Zozo, 19, was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend in August.  

Noloyiso Genqa, 35, was shot dead at a Mthatha school by an ex-boyfriend resisting a breakup in August.  

A Soweto grandmother, 58, and two children were found dead - stabbed to death by an ex-boyfriend - at their home in August.

Whether an 8-year-old girl or a 58-year-old grandmother, women in South Africa are more likely to be killed by a man they know (or trust for safety - police) than the Covid-19 pandemic. August: a month that claims to celebrate women but instead, we mourn them. 

Additional information on Shanaaz Sukhraj provided by Boost Communications

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