Coronavirus fear adds to woes of women facing GBV as well

The Covid-19 period of isolation at home for the entire nation brings into sharp relief the plague of poverty, domestic abuse and gender-based violence that thousands of women must contend with on a daily basis, the writer says.
The Covid-19 period of isolation at home for the entire nation brings into sharp relief the plague of poverty, domestic abuse and gender-based violence that thousands of women must contend with on a daily basis, the writer says.
Image: SOWETAN

As the coronavirus cuts a swathe through the entire world, leaving tens of thousands dead in its wake, many women in SA must endure a second virus for which there are minimal eradication efforts.

Whereas the 21-day lockdown is a bold attempt to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, the period of isolation at home for the entire nation also brings into sharp relief the plague of poverty, domestic abuse and gender-based violence that thousands of women must contend with on a daily basis.

While the coronavirus is trending on all social media platforms, it collides with an epidemic of increased socioeconomic, psychological and physical stress for women.

In SA, 46% of women are unemployed and 63% of black women are living below the lower poverty line.

Global pandemics, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters bring the world together to work towards a solution.

However, while women suffer physical assault, psychological abuse, social abuse, financial abuse and sexual assault, no social reform laboratories are occupied with ridding this scourge permanently.

A woman, who is the face of thousands of her sisters, has to work in a city or province far removed from her family home.

Her children are taken care of by an elder maternal woman. Amid the coronavirus lockdown, she is sent home without pay for the duration of the shutdown.

She undertakes the 18-hour journey in a taxi with no sterilisation or social distancing, not by choice but by necessity.

She travels with a conflicted mind of two deadly viruses.

She struggles with a double-edged sword for survival - the risk and survival from the coronavirus and the risk and survival of her children and family from not knowing where their next meal will come from. There is no choice of buying hand sanitisers, gloves, masks or food.

With the lack of income for three weeks, or it could be longer, what choice does this woman have?

A woman who is the face of thousands of her sisters has to remain in the lockdown with a partner she sometimes depends on financially. A partner who in turn physically, verbally and sexually assaults her.

The woman anxiously awaits her partner to leave the home knowing that it is her only time of safety.

With many of the abusive perpetrators not having their usual outlet of alcohol, drugs or gambling during the shutdown, abusing their partner will be their only outlet.

The root cause of gender-based violence lies in fraying social structures and in unequal power relations between women and men.

However, a variety of factors on the individual level, the family level, and at the level of community and society, often combine to raise the likelihood of violence occurring.

Commendation must go the social development minister Lindiwe Zulu, who recognised this critical implication of the lockdown and said that a Gender-based Violence Command Centre will be fully operational through Skype via "HELPMEGBV", a toll-free line (0800 428 428) and a callback service that victims may use by dialling *120*7867# from their cellphones.

The women who are the face of thousands of their sisters would much rather face the lethal coronavirus, because there is a chance of survival and it is a defined period where a vaccine is imminent to stop the spread.

Mancosa is a South African-based distance learning institution.

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