Covid-19 has caused devastation in communities, and this has disproportionately affected women. This impact on women, particularly their economic status and vulnerability to violence, has been brought home by the release in the last week of the quarterly crime statistics and quarterly Labour Force Survey.
While these figures provide a sense of the magnitude of the problem, they fail to give the details required to inform effective interventions. Navigating through this storm requires more careful analysis of why women are still in such vulnerable positions – in the economy and in their homes.
Police Miniter Bheki Cele's recent release of quarterly crime statistics for October to December 2020 includes the report that sexual offences have again increased since the previous year. In total, 15 595 sexual offences were committed, with rape accounting for 12 218 of this number.
While the release of quarterly rather than annual statistics is welcomed, the statistics released provide a superficial picture of the problem.
The government has sought to demonstrate its commitment to addressing gender-based violence (GBV) more decisively since 2018.
After laudable plans such as the Emergency Response Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide launched in 2019, there is very little information with regards to the results of such endeavours, lessons learnt or shifts in strategy.
The Covid-19 pandemic presents a whole new context within which such programmes need to adjust their goals and strategies. Key sources of outreach and monitoring of trends such as the GBV command call centres have struggled to adapt. These centres reported an increase in calls and SMSes – from nearly 5 000 before the outbreak to 40 000 during the lockdown period. Again, there is not much information with regards to the nature of these calls or assistance rendered beyond telephonic advice.
The Quarterly Labour Force Survey paints a similarly grim picture, indicating an increase of 701 000 (to 7.2 million) unemployed people in the last quarter, and again it is women who bear the brunt of this burden
The link between economic vulnerability and gender violence is very well established.
It is now generally understood that sexual and gender violence are a direct outcome of inequality and expressions of power and dominance.
Economic vulnerability reduces women's ability to negotiate relationships, escape abusive relationships, find support networks and build healthy living environments for themselves and their families.
Strengthening women's economic position is critical in reducing various forms of abuse, but we also need to know more about the specific nature of the crimes committed, the types of support programmes that strengthen their position in their families, their neighbourhoods and society as a whole. Gender violence is not just a function of personal relationships, it is an expression of patriarchy that is built into the inequality that pervades every aspect of our society.
Understanding the details of how women negotiate these interpersonal, community and social roles is key to developing and monitoring effective interventions.
Good data is needed to monitor progress and guide interventions in a constantly shifting context. Without nuanced information the state and civil society cannot navigate this storm effectively.
Boikanyo Moloto is a researcher and Sinqobile Makhathini is a research intern at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
This op-ed was first published in The Star newspaper.
Op ed Gender Violence and Covid