When the President, Cyril Ramaphosa, made the first announcement on 15 March 2020, I felt a tinge of worry about course through my body. The worry pertained to my life and the changes that it would bring to me but after some time I had a moment of reflection about the community I have dedicated years to, Diepsloot. The team and board came to a very difficult decision that required our offices to close as of 17 March 2020.
Home is a place of safety and solace, but it is also an unsafe and dangerous experience for some. Social distancing and living in lock down require us all to stay within the confines of our homes. This will allow for the rate of those tested positive of the Coronavirus to be controllable and allow for the health care system to be able to handle the number of cases. The result is good for the country and it is such an important requirement that is surely going to have long term implications for the economy and infrastructure. On the other end, the implications that such precautions have for those living in homes of domestic and sexual violence have dangerous outcomes.
Isolation from family and friends is one of the tactics used by abusers in most domestic and sexual violence matters. It is feared that the establishment of the lock down will entrench stronger measures of control over victims and survivors. It is our experience that some abusers take away the survivor’s access to resources and shelter. It is unknown at this point whether government and civil society have the resources to provide shelter and resources to those forcefully removed from homes. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that we know that access to resources is already at such a precarious state for those living in rural or informal settlements.
Schools form a part of the routine of young people. We know, from our efforts of building strong relationships in schools and providing workshops and trainings to educators and learners that learners find school as a safe place where they have access to adults who have their best interest at heart. This means that learners can report cases of violence at home and situations that make them feel unsafe. With schools closed there is a fear that such cases may go unreported because learners would not have a trustworthy source to report to.
The World Health Organisation stated, “Gender-based violence tends to increase during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts; “women’s bodies too often become battlefields””. Wan Fei, the founder of an NPO in China stated the following of the situation in China, “According to our statistics, 90% of the cause of violence are related to the Covid-19 epidemic. This was stated in response to reports of a threefold increase in cases reported in February 2020 to February 2019 in cases of domestic violence. In America, a domestic violence in Portland reported that the number of reported cases doubled to the hotline. The UN children’s agency, together with its partners at the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, has released a set of guidance to support authorities and organisations involved in the response.
Increased rates of abuse and exploitation of children have occurred during previous public health emergencies. School closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, for example, contributed to spikes in child labour, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak. We know from experience that cases woman and children find themselves at heightened risk during periods of unrest in the community of Diepsloot. We do not know what the current state of affairs in the country will do to the community but we are preparing ourselves for the worst.
Women, children, persons living with disabilities and persons identifying within the LGBTIQ+ community, are at the most risk in South Africa. We all know this even before we were on lock down, how much more now? We ask government and other stakeholders to continue the fight against GBV and ensure the safety of those who now find themselves at heightened risk and vulnerability.