Addressing the sudden rise in domestic violence and gender violence is a key concern for authorities in all the Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) where governments have imposed either a partial or a full lockdown.
The SADC Executive Secretary, HE Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said in a statement from the SADC Secretariat, some countries worldwide have reported increased incidences of domestic violence and gender violence of up to 30%. Invariably, women and girls are the main victims.
Dr Tax said this appalling situation stands against the very spirit and principles enshrined in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, Regional Strategy and Framework of Action for Addressing Gender Violence (2018-2030) and the Regional Strategy on Women, Peace and Security (2018 - 2022), which collectively seek to sustainably empower and protect women and girls from sexual and gender violence.
"Under the lockdowns, domestic violence cases tend to increase as security, health, and finance concerns heighten socio-economical tensions. Women that are in abusive relationships are now forced to be at home with their abusers for a prolonged period, making it difficult for them to reach out for help. Social distancing in itself makes it difficult for female victims to reach out to their usual support systems, particularly, friends and other family members. In addition, the COVID-19 quarantine centres and temporary accommodation facilities for the homeless have the potential of being a breeding ground for sexual and gender violence, if not managed appropriately," she continued.
Explaining that it is more difficult to report harassment while under lockdown, Dr Tax argues that it is up to individual governments to provide flexible and innovative tools for reporting. This must also be extended to counselling afterwards.
"These tools must be clearly communicated to enable those affected to access and utilise them. In response to this crisis, shelters and places of safety for victims of abuse must be considered an essential service and should be expanded as needed. This is in line with Article 20 of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which obliges Member States to put in place measures to eliminate gender violence," she said.
"May we all - public sector, private sector, civil society, media and community leaders [strive] to work together during the COVID-19 crisis, while considering the differential impact of the crisis on women and men, boys and girls. We must all redouble our efforts on zero tolerance for gender violence as we fight this devastating pandemic," she concluded.