Shocking stats on gender-based violence during lockdown revealed

01 September 2020 - 09:01 By Tanya Farber
Two gender-based violence protesters during a protest at parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Two gender-based violence protesters during a protest at parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

The effect of lockdown on gender-based violence (GBV) has been laid bare by a researcher who collected data from every support call centre.

The government GBV and femicide command centre alone recorded more than 120,000 victims in the first three weeks of lockdown, said Rose Gawaya, a gender adviser at the Social Policy Network.

By mid-April, in Tshwane alone, the call centre was receiving between 500 and 1,000 calls a day.

Vodacom's support call centres saw a 65% increase in calls “from women and children confined in their homes seeking urgent help” after lockdown began.

Combining advocacy and art, The Embrace Project was founded during the nationwide lockdown as a response to the increasing cases of gender-based violence being reported in South Africa. Co-founders Leanne Berger and Lee-Ann Germanos launched an online platform that sells local artworks and designs in an effort to raise funds to combat GBV and spark dialogue.

Lockdown caused an increase in GBV because it “effectively made it easier for perpetrators to torment their victims with little or no room for support services”, said Gawaya, who is completing her PhD at Wits School of Governance.

Speaking at a webinar on Monday, she said: “The requirement to stay indoors with potential or actual abusers presented unique challenges.”

According to the burden of disease unit at the SA Medical Research Council, these shocking figures would have been even worse without the alcohol ban.

Various forms of GBV in SA outnumber most other countries and lie on the same spectrum as femicide.

Dr Darlene Miller from the Wits School of Governance said many murders of women are “accompanied by brutal rapes and assaults”.

During lockdown level five, said Gawaya, GBV centres were meant to remain open but some closed and others were “inaccessible” due to lack of transport.

Prof Tamara Shefer, a gender studies expert from the University of the Western Cape, said Covid-19 had worsened GBV but  “rape culture is a pandemic in itself and one that we have known about for a very long time in SA”.

Problems persist with women not wanting to report assaults because of secondary victimisation at police stations and social shaming.

Wits gender expert Dr Ruth Murambadoro said places of worship were also risky for women.

“When a woman is violated by a religious leader, she will be asked, ‘what were you wearing?’ and ‘did you lure the leader? He is a man of god and would not be inclined to do such things.’ These attitudes make it difficult to bring about the changes that are deeply needed,” she said.

Quoting from comments submitted by the public, Miller said the rapid and widespread government response to Covid-19 showed what was possible “when the political will is there”.

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After nationwide GBV protests spread in SA in September 2019 following Uyinene Mrwetyana’s murder, design student Katie de Bruyn created a mug design in response to the “men are trash” hashtag and dialogue on Twitter. She has since been selling mugs to raise awareness on issues around gender-based violence in South Africa and donating the proceeds to the Frida Hartley shelter for homeless women in Johannesburg.


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