The advent of the covid-19 pandemic has brought untold suffering to the world and much more to the developing world where they have to cope with poor health facilities and the effects it has on the livelihoods of the general citizenry. The covid-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in restrictions on the freedom of movement of people in the country and worrisome reports on the misuse of emergency measures to further erode human rights and the rule of law. This has led to an adverse impact on civic space and the ability of communities and individuals to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Women continue to bear the brunt of harassment and attacks both on and offline. Some women activists have been subjected to abuse. The prospects of a continued lockdown raise serious concerns over how these protection gaps and human rights restrictions will be addressed. CSOs hope that post-pandemic recovery will lead to an expansion of rights and participation of women in public affairs so that we are more resilient to future such crises.
While it is too early for comprehensive data, there are already many deeply concerning reports of increased violence against women around the world, with surges being reported in many cases of upwards of 25% in countries with reporting systems in place. In Zimbabwe CSOs, media houses and activists reported through online newspapers and social media that the number of GBV cases increased significantly during lockdown. GBV service providers in Zimbabwe have seen an increase in reported GBV cases,including psychological, physical, sexual and economic forms of violence.
SAFE’s analysis of GBV data between March and May 2020 found that intimate partner violence (IPV) was the most frequently reported form of GBV as 69.5% of identifiable perpetrators were intimate partners. The COVID-19 lockdown has also exposed women and girls to violence when accessing services, including at water collection points. The perpetrators include men using the services, service providers who demand sex in exchange for water, as well as law enforcement officers monitoring the lockdown. This is one of numerous examples of violence by law enforcement agents, who are also responsible for attacks on women alleged to be ‘defying’ lockdown restrictions and women engaging in peaceful protests.
It is noteworthy that one of the greatest setbacks in the fight against GBV is non-publicity of real time statistics on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) which in-turn negatively impacts on evidence-based policy/national response to GBV. In light of the aforementioned, most organisations that are in GBV programming await for statistics from other organisations like Musasa to base their response to GBV. The level of difficulty in getting the statistics from Victim Friendly Unit sections do not only prove poor prioritization of the phenomena but the extent to which organisations and various stakeholders encounter in the fight for gender justice. Indeed, there is need to relook at the national data management systems that are used as a benchmark to GBV response during the pandemic.
Alongside the increase in numbers, violence against women is taking on new complexity with exposure to Covid-19 being used as a threat. The inability of women to call for help or escape is being exploited by abusers. Women risk being thrown out on the street with nowhere to go. At the same time support services are struggling for example judicial, police and health services which are supposed to be the first responders for women are overwhelmed. Some have shifted priorities or are otherwise unable to help. Civil society organizations are affected by lockdown or reallocation of resources. Some domestic violence shelters are full others have had to close.
Women and girls who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination were already at higher risk of violence, which COVID-19 is exacerbating. Emerging evidence in Zimbabwe, or regionally, indicates that poor women, women in rural areas, women and girls with disabilities, adolescent girls, older women, women and girls with HIV, migrant women and women in quarantine facilities, and refugee women are at heightened risk of violence. However, more research is needed that looks at their experiences of violence during the pandemic.