COVID exacerbating GBV & measuring difficult

COVID exacerbating GBV & measuring difficult

Date: November 25, 2020
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By Kevin Chiramba,

25 November: This year the world commemorates the Sixteen Days of Activism in a time of COVID -19. The pandemic is presenting an unprecedented global health emergency. The virus left many countries in a parlous state, as world leaders struggled to contain both the socio-economic effects and the dire health consequences of the outbreak. The United Nations warned that the pandemic will have a “catastrophic impact” on women, predicting that lock downs could lead to a 20% surge in domestic violence as it forces victims to remain trapped at home with their abusers[1]. Unfortunately, the mandatory lock downs imposed in many SADC countries made millions of women and children less safe.

Many women have been exposed to Internet Partner Violence (IPV) as family members spend more time in close contact and cope with additional stresses, including financial strain and job loss.[2] A 2019 UN Women gender equality attitudes study found that only 53% of women (compared to 66% of men) feel moderately safe or very safe in their home.[3] These unusual circumstances due to the pandemic mean that women have less contact with family and friends who may provide support and protection from violence. Many women and girls also have limited access to phones and helplines, and the pandemic hugely disrupted the provision and access to public services like police, justice, and social services. This compromises the care and support that survivors need, such as clinical management of rape, as well as mental health and psycho-social support.

Even when countries have started to relax the lockdown restrictions, the Covid-19 crisis continues to present a threat to work to address GBV in SADC as there are fluctuations in the number of new infections in different countries. South Africa[4], has reported increases in new cases of the corona virus, and GBV is still an endemic problem in the countries. It is not clear whether countries where the virus is surging will resort to stricter lock down levels which, worsen the reporting, and service provision of GBV.

GBV service providers continue to reveal shocking statistics of GBV in the region implying that GBV is real with or without lock down restrictions. In South Africa, the government GBV and femicide command centre alone recorded more than 120,000 victims in the first three weeks of lockdown. 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[5]. In Zimbabwe, Musasa, an agency that normally provides support to about 500 GBV survivors each month, recorded more than 700 GBV cases in the first week of lockdowns. Meanwhile, the Lesotho Mobile Police Service (LMPS) handled 18 cases of sexual violence in the first two weeks of lockdown, an unusually high number, according to senior inspector ‘Malebohang Nepo from the LMPS child and gender protection unit.[6] Between March and April 2020, Botswana recorded 27 cases of rape.[7] The increase in the number of GBV cases represents a dire unintended consequence of the lockdowns, which leaders implemented to protect SADC citizens.

It has been difficult to measure the extent of GBV during the pandemic owing to movement and public health restrictions. In some cases, where DHS data collection had been planned, fieldwork activities have been halted[8]. This makes it difficult for timely data-driven and contextually relevant decision making for the for affected countries.

It is important to note that in these extra ordinary times, coordination, and real commitment to end GBV has never been more important. Compared to HIV prevention, strong advocacy, planning and resourcing on GBV prevention has always escaped the radar of political actors and policy makers across SADC yet like HIV, GBV has major socio-economic ramifications for individual, community and national development. For instance, a recent study in Lesotho by the Commonwealth in March 2020[9] shows that domestic violence costs the country about 1.2 billion Lesotho Loti per year. Despite this challenge, the increases in GBV during the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have re-ignited commitment to fight GBV.

In South Africa, after years of lobbying by GBV actors, the government has constituted the National Gender Based Violence and Femicide Council, GBVF. The multi sectoral structure will implement the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide, in addition, the government has introduced a raft of measures including committing 1.6 billion rands to curb GBVF in the country. In line with article 4 of the 2019 Presidential GBV summit declaration, the council will comprise 51% of civil society officials and 49% government officials[10]. As recent as November 2020, the South African government announced that it is planning for tighter legislation on GBV offenders, and has put in measures to establish survivor centred shelters, have intermediaries for victims of emotional violence in court and also, that it will process protection orders for victims online. This will also feed into an integrated repository to track histories of abuses by perpetrators[11].

SADC first ladies have taken up the issue, highlighting their commitment to fighting GBV and using their influence and platform to underscore political commitment in their countries. In Madagascar, the nomination of First lady Mialy Rajoelina as the UNFPA ambassador on the fight against GBV and child marriage provided a renewed incentive for government to engage in the issue[12]. In her role as the country’s health ambassador, Zimbabwe’s First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa took time while speaking at a pandemic awareness programme to also mention the rising cases of GBV during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, the speeches should translate into actionable and budgetary commitments to end the scourge. In Zambia, despite the Victim Support Unit (VSU) of the Zambia Police Service recording a decline of GBV cases from 5,040 GBV cases compared to 5584 cases recorded during the same period in 2019 [13], the Ministry of Gender still views GBV as a serious public health problem which affects a lot of people in Zambia.

The Covid-19 pandemic lock down period have seen the often unintegrated reporting of GBV data from multiple sources in SADC. This poses problems for verifiability of data and points to the need for strengthening GBV information management systems and coordination among GBV actors in the region. In addition, real political commitment and well-resourced plans to curb GBV are needed across the region.






[6] “Efforts Made to Counter GBV in COVID-19 Crisis.”

[7] “GBV during Covid-19.”





[12] tilisateur, “50ème Anniversaire Du Fonds Des Nations Unies Pour La Population41 Années de Son Implication à Madagascar.”


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