This week sees the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and the marking of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. 

A series of global activities are being planned to mark the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence which kicks off on 25 November, and at home the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) will launch the 16 Days of Activism later today.

This year’ theme is ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ globally, with the United Nations saying that one in three women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most often perpetrated by an intimate partner.

The colour orange is meant to act as a global unifying symbol, decorating buildings and landmarks in orange, or having activists wear the colour to raise awareness about this issue.

And as the scourge of Covid-19 continues wreaks havoc across the world, data published by the UN shows that all types of violence against women and girls have intensified.

South Africa suffers

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said curbing the scourge of gender-based violence will require an act of solidarity from every sector of society.

“Legislative and policy measures instituted by governments cannot alone rid the country of this problem.”

The president made the call in his weekly newsletter on 23 November, saying NGOs and community workers are the closest to where people live and work.

“They are a barometer of implementation on the ground. This country’s women and children, and indeed all the people of South Africa will forever remain grateful for the work of our robust, activist and principled civil society organisations and workers.”

At the start of lockdown, activists warned that it could create a “perfect storm” for gender-based violence, urgently calling for increased support as part of the emergency measures.

However, when Women’s month rolled around in August, South Africans had seen several high-profile incidents, again calling for urgent action.

During his televised national address in earlier this month, President Ramaphosa called for five days of mourning not just for those who succumbed to Covid-19, but also for those killed as a result of gender-based violence during this time.

South African Leader condemns latest surge of violence against women | New York Amsterdam News: The new Black view

To kick off activities over the next 16 days, at 10am on Wednesday, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Embassy of Ireland is hosting an inter-disciplinary panel as they discuss Women’s access to justice – the law and its limits. 

Through an intersectional lens, panelists will reflect on the state of access to justice for survivors of GBV in South Africa in 2020, and the barriers and opportunities to be found in our law.

Gallup’s latest poll, conducted in 144 nations, classed South Africa as the ‘fifth most dangerous country in the world.’

Although Afghanistan maintains a clear lead as the ‘most dangerous country’ outright, Gabon, Venezuela, and Liberia are all separated by just two points. 

SA completes the top five, recording a miserly 57 out of 100 on the Law and Order Index.

Shadow pandemic

The UN calls this a ‘shadow pandemic’ and is calling for global action to halt the increased violence directed at women and children.

Worryingly, the UN reports that Covid-19 cases have strained health services at the same time that domestic violence shelters and helplines reached capacity in many countries.

Emerging data also points to an increase in sexual harassment and other forms of violence, while resources are diverted to deal with the crisis of the pandemic.

This “alarming” increase in violence has been in the form of physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence, the UN said.

With schools closed, and financial and food security increased due to economic hardship, girls and women are more vulnerable to exploitation and harassment. With lockdowns in various countries, survivors have also struggled to access support.

16 Days of Activism gender-based violence
(United Nations)

The UN said this year has been like no other, with at least 243 million women and girls abused by an intimate partner in the past 12 months.

What’s worse, this figure is also not complete. The UN says that less than 40 percent of those experiencing GBV report it or seek help, meaning the actual numbers of those abused are much higher.

In some parts of the world, calls to helplines have increased five-fold according to UN figures.

And while 135 countries have strengthened actions to address violence against women as part of their COVID-19 response, the UN said more must be done.

New GBV hotline

The National Shelter Movement of South Africa on Monday said the launch of a helpline for those affected by gender-based violence will help reduce the scourge.

The toll-free hotline, which goes live on 2 December, will help survivors get to their nearest shelter.

The Movement’s Bernadine Bachar said it was highlighted during the lockdown, that not many women knew where to access a place of safety; or which services were available to them.

Bachar the 24/7 hotline would change this and would, “Help them get information about having procuring protection orders, or (how to lay) charges at police stations.”

She added the hotline would be able to offer those support services to GBV survivors, that they actually need in order to escape the abusive situation.

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