Women Face A Double Pandemic As Domestic Violence Rises Amid COVID-19

For many women enduring physical abuse in marriages, economic activities of their abusive partners have lessened the time they are exposed to the violence. The lockdown and closure of businesses due to COVID-19, has made life unbearable for many — however, they choose to remain silent. The world has been mostly exposed to the negative economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, for Elizabeth Moyo the suffering has gone a step beyond, as her husband has been abusing her physically, emotionally and sexually.

Since her husband lost his job at a local mining company in Gwanda, Moyo and her four children have not known peace. Moyo sells vegetables and fruits in the township and leaves some stock for her children to sell at home but proceeds from this business stock are hardly enough to support her big family. Moyo believes her husband, who is frustrated by his financial challenges, has been taking out his anger on his family, but mostly, on her.

“I get beat up and insulted for almost anything on a daily basis. I get to breathe a sigh of relief whenever I’m out selling my products. He uses anything that he can find to assault me, at one point he struck me with a chair on my back and up to now I can still feel the pain. To make matters worse he forces me to have sexual intercourse with him,” says Moyo.

Moyo says she has endured physical abuse from her spouse in the past, now it has become worse.

“He used to beat me up even before the lockdown but the situation has worsened,” Elizabeth Moyo, mother to four children.

With schools set to open, Moyo says her husband has made it clear that their children who are in Grade 2, Grade 5, Form 1 and Form 3 will not be going back to school as he does not have the money to pay for their school fees.

Her husband is one of many people whose contracts were terminated at a local mining company in Gwanda following the outbreak of COVID-19 and commencement of the lockdown which forced many companies to either scale down their operations or close their doors temporarily. As the pandemic continues the situation has not gone back to normal.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated poverty, which has increased tensions in households by limiting families’ ability to put food on the table. Moyo is not the only one who has endured such torture. Nomsa Ncube* also from Gwanda has been a victim of mostly verbal abuse from her husband.

“I get all kinds of insults hurled at me on a daily basis and my husband constantly reminds me that I’m useless as I stay at home all day and don’t contribute anything towards payment of bills, yet he is the one who said I should be a housewife so that I can properly look after our three children,” she says.

Ncube’s husband, an informal trader, had his operations suspended when borders were closed and lockdown effected. He covertly operates from their home and now gets merchandise for sale through truck drivers who smuggle goods into the country from South Africa.

According to the recently released Stopping Abuse and Female Exploitation (SAFE) Zimbabwe Technical Assistance Facility report produced together with the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, violence against women and girls shot up by 38,5 percent during the first two months of the lockdown (April and May) compared to the preceding two months before the national lockdown (February and March). Gender activists attribute the crisis to COVID-19’s impact on the socio-economic status of many Zimbabweans. From March when COVID-19 first hit the headlines in Zimbabwe to the end of May, about 6 906 women reported abuse to five major non-governmental organisations that deal with gender-based violence. These organisations include Musasa, Adult Rape Clinic, Real Opportunities for Transformation Support (ROOTS); Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) and the Zimbabwe Women’s Lawyers Association (ZWLA).

Physical violence increased by 43.8 percent, emotional violence increased by 80.3 percent, and economic violence increased by 42.4 percent during lockdown. The report shows that 332 women were raped during the three months under review although it is feared many victims could not access services or make reports.

“These overall figures mask an even more dramatic increase in reports received by virtual platforms- phone calls, WhatsApp, and SMS. For example, the number of reports received by Musasa virtual helpdesks multiplied by nearly 20 between March and April 2020.”

“About 71.1 percent of reports of violence in March to May 2020 were reported as partner violence, a slight increase on the previous year (68 percent) as a proportion of all reports of violence. One NGO supported a survivor both of whose arms were broken; another survivor had her face cut with an axe, and another had broken legs,” says the report.

Pastor Phathisiwe Dube from the Christ Tabernacle Ministries Church in Gwanda, Matabeleland South Province says she started noting a disturbing increase in cases of gender-based violence in April. She says the number of women from her church and community who have come to her seeking counselling services and advice after being abused by their spouses has drastically increased.

What concerns Pastor Dube is that most of these women who are suffering mostly from emotional abuse are not willing to report out of fear of destroying their marriages or alienating their in-laws. She says most of the cases were also of families that were informal traders who had their businesses and income affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Minor issues such as a misplaced key escalate into big issues which end up in fights. The cause will however not be the minor issue but there will be an underlying factor,” Pastor Phathisiwe Dube, Church pastor.

“Most of these women come to report to me in secret and they emphasize that they don’t want their husbands to know. I try to advise them to report to the police but they refuse,” she says.

Pastor Dube says most of these women tend to protect their abusive husbands as they are breadwinners.

“Most women fear what will become of them once they report, how they will fend for their children, where they will stay while others are being haunted by the societal belief that women should endure in marriage no matter how much they are abused as that is part of marriage life,” she says.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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