Tackling gender-based violence – the “second pandemic”


President Ramaphosa extends Alert Level 3 and announces new measures to combat “second pandemic” of GBV and femicide

The President’s speech on 11 January, coming just two weeks after he announced a return to Alert Level 3, albeit “adjusted”, harboured few surprises. Some might have hoped for an end to the alcohol ban, but it was highly unlikely. While there is no correlation between consumption of alcohol and transmission of COVID-19 (other than perhaps disinhibition leading to failure to keep one’s distance from others), the point behind the ban is to reduce instances of alcohol-related trauma filling up hospitals. And it has done this. Our public health system is fragile at the best of times. It is under tremendous strain from COVID-19 and the current wave of infections. If we can remove one source of pressure on our hospitals and health care workers it may mean lives are saved. So while we may grumble about the curfew and the booze ban, they are there for a reason. 

Other restrictions of the adjusted Alert Level 3

The evening curfew was unchanged at 21.00, but brought forward in the morning to end at 05.00, presumably to facilitate commuters as the nation returns to work after the festive season. Other measures introduced include land border closures, to stem the waves of people returning to South Africa after visiting relations in neighbouring countries over the holidays. The congestion at border crossings is a concern in terms of spreading the virus. Land ports of entry will be closed until 15 February. However, the following may return home: 

  • South African nationals
  • Permanent residents
  • Persons with a long-term residence visa
  • Spouses with a visa 
  • Children with visas
  • Persons with a work visa
  • Holders of a business visa

There are other exceptions able to cross the border, too numerous to list here. For full details see the Disaster Management Act Amendment of Regulations.

Gender-based violence – the “second pandemic”

At SD Law we’ve campaigned actively against gender-based violence, including coercive control and emotional abuse. The rate of rape, femicide and domestic violence in South Africa is shameful. Therefore, we welcome measures announced by the President to curb this “second pandemic”.

Civil society has long been working tirelessly to combat gender-based violence, but it’s clear that more needs to be done and a concerted effort by Government is necessary. Taxi drivers and taxi marshals are to be sensitised on gender awareness, gender norms, toxic masculinity and GBV, with the aim of changing behaviour. Faith-based organisations are working together to sensitise religious leaders on patriarchy and GBV. This is essential as our institutions are the guardians and perpetrators of patriarchal and misogynistic norms, reinforcing discriminatory and oppressive treatment of women and girls. Men feel validated in their gender primacy when it is upheld and even encouraged by church and community leaders. These leaders are to be trained to accompany survivors of GBV, from reporting the crime to linkage to care and through the court process.

We would argue that more needs to done in schools, sports clubs, and other places where boys and young men convene. Toxic masculinity begins in boyhood. We must tackle adult male behaviour but we mustn’t wait for the current generation of boys to grow up before we engage with them. We also need to socialise girls to not accept, tolerate or expect certain types of behaviours from boys and men. However, we welcome these initiatives and encourage our government to go further still.

Women’s economic empowerment is to be prioritised, including training for business women so they can access public procurement opportunities. Finally, South Africa is ratifying the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 190, which sets out a global standard for the protection of women at work.

Shining a spotlight on inequality

South Africa is a nation of huge inequality. This is not news. But here and around the world, COVID-19 has highlighted just how extreme systemic socio-economic inequalities are. From access to health care to green spaces to the digital divide to employment, poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable people have fared much worse in the pandemic. Women and migrants are among the worst affected.

As we see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of the vaccination programme, our wish for South Africa is that we emerge from this pandemic with greater awareness of the glaring inequality that divides our country, and a renewed commitment to building a fairer, more equitable society for all. President Ramaphosa asked us to act with a common purpose to defeat the virus and rebuild our lives and our nation. However, we believe that recovery means more than this. We have an opportunity to “build back better”. We must seize it.

If you’ve been affected by GBV or any of the issues in this article

SD Law is a law firm in Cape Town with deep experience of helping women escape abusive men and find peace in a new life. We will connect you to relevant support services and make sure you and your children are safe. At SD Law, we understand how deeply distressing gender-based violence can be, and we will handle your case with discretion, empathy and compassion. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za for a confidential discussion. 

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