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In the recent weeks, South Africa has seen a significant rise in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) with several women and children being killed in the hands of men. The recent deaths of Tshegofatso Pule, Naledi Phangindawo, Nompumelelo Tshaka, Nomfazi Gabada, Nwabisa Mgwandela, Altecia Kortjie and Lindelwa Peni, all young women who were killed by men during the lockdown period.

The data and information on the current status of GBV in the country during lockdown has been conflicting. On the one hand, numerous media reports have highlighted the increased risk women in intimate relationships face under lockdown conditions, because they are trapped in their homes with their abusers, unable to leave, escape or reach out for help. Official reports show that within the first week alone of the current lockdown, South African Police Services (SAPS) received 2,320 complaints of GBV (which are only the reported cases), with only 148 related charges laid. These statistics represent a 37% increase from the weekly average of South African GBV cases reported for 2019.

Over the last five years, South Africa prioritised addressing all forms of violence against women and girls with focus on rape and sexual offences; femicide and intimate partner violence especially of young women and sexual harassment, especially in schools. In August, early September 2019, the scourge of GBV and violence against women and children had reared its ugly head again, to the extent that the President of South Africa had to declare it “more than a national crisis”.

The President gave his assurance to the country that government will intensify action against men who kill women and commit various forms of violence against women and girls, amid a spate of fatal attacks on women and girls in various parts of the country. He called upon the nation to work together – Government, civil society, men and boys (in particular) and all stakeholders – in addressing this scourge afflicting South Africa, adding that it is not a women’s problem.

The GBV Citizens Survey is a research project that uses mobile technology innovatively to undertake a rapid appraisal to assess the impact of COVID 19 and the lock-down period in South Africa on the incidence of GBV against women. Using a USSD survey with airtime incentive SMS, the research will be undertaken in all 9 provinces in South Africa, across 50 districts, with a target of 3,500 individuals. For individuals to take part in this GBV survey, they are required to dial 1348621# for free and they get R10 airtime. The survey is applicable to people who are 18 years or older.

“I am very pleased that the GBV Citizens Survey is taking place because gender-based violence during lock-down has become another pandemic in our society. This survey will help us measure the extent of violence against women; and it will help us to assess if women have knowledge, access and utilization of essential services when they need them. The important thing is that we need to make sure that women at risk have the help they need; and perpetrators of violence face the legal consequences.” Says, Anne Githuku Shongwe (Head – UN Women Southern Africa).

The incidence of GBV is the most difficult to measure, since available data is only limited to those who report, and those who seek help from the GBV command centre and other service centres. However, in an environment where women are confined with their likely attackers, it is expected that the number of those who can seek help is far less than those who need it. Regardless, responses to COVID 19 must be informed by a gender lens, especially because all the elements demonstrated disproportionately affect women.

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