July 07, 2020
New Delhi: The state of women in South Africa isn’t much to talk about given the increase in domestic violence. On 2 April, the first week of the lockdown, the country received more than 87,000 gender-based complaints. This was largely due to the fact that perpetrators and survivors were forced to stay in the same physical confines due to the pandemic. This led to increased incidents and intensity of domestic violence and abuse. The rate at which women in South Africa are murdered by their partners is five times higher than the global average, according to the World Health Organization. 
The surge in crimes and violence against women is primarily due to the inability of the abused to flee from the abuser. The pandemic has led to loss of income and consequently many families live under stress, anxiety, fear and resentment. The lack of a normal day routine has been disrupted which has led to a creation of a volatile home environment. Isolating a survivor from her usual support system, a common abuse tactic, is easier during the lockdown with the abuser having increased power over his actions.
During the lockdown, the legal support structures for domestic violence and protection remain operational with the Gender-Based Violence National Command Centre continuing to work in South Africa. However, the help lines are jammed by the increased number of calls for help and advice. Providing redress and protection to victims has become even more difficult due to a lack of resources, powerful elites to back the system and due to COVID-related safety concerns.
The increase in killings of women post-the pandemic led to hundreds of women and men taking to the streets to protest against such atrocities. In the light of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality, the fight seems to be far from over. Insufficient progress on structural issues gnaw at the root of gender inequality with discrimination, unfair social norms and treatment, lack of safe spaces for women, government inaction against perpetrators that together undermine the ability to achieve SDG 5 in South Africa.
Over the past few weeks, not less than 21 women and children have been murdered. The case that gained most traction and led to much protest was that of a 28-year-old pregnant woman- Tshegofatso Pule, who was murdered and found dead hanging from a tree, killed by her spouse. There are others including Naledi Phangindawo, Nompumelelo Tshaka, Nomfazi Gabada, Nwabisa Mgwandela, Altecia Kortjie and Lindelwa Peni- all young women who were killed by men. Not just young women, but many elderly women too have met with a similar fate. For instance, an 89-year-old grandmother was killed in an old age home in Queenstown; a 79-year-old was killed in Brakpan; and an elderly woman was raped in KwaSwayimane in KwaZulu-Natal.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said, "Gender-based violence thrives in a climate of silence. With our silence, by looking the other way because we believe it is a personal or family matter, we become complicit in this most insidious of crimes," he said. Besides the country’s highest authority being vocal, what is needed presently is action to prevent such incidents in the future. The rise in violence and crime against women post-COVID-19 has not only been a concern for South Africa but many other developing countries, too.
As a first step, policies need to be drafted on issues of gender equality and strict measures need to be taken against those instigating it. The State must ensure justice and legal action is carried out so that it serves as an example to those perpetuating violence and crimes against women and most importantly, it should become a deterrence to others.
(Yvonne Wanjiru is an intern with OneWorld Foundation India)
1. 'Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence', World Health Organization, 2013