Violence against women: Africa’s shadow pandemic

The number of cases of sexualized violence and femicide in Africa has risen during the Covid-19 pandemic. Will those in power finally grow aware of the extent of the problem?

I slept with a small knife, because I was afraid. I didn’t even think about defending myself, because he was three times as strong as I am,” said Cameroonian journalist Kitty Chrys-Tayl, recounting her experience. Having often been beaten and humiliated, she knows all about gender-based violence (GBV) firsthand.

The United Nations has called it the “shadow pandemic”. Violence, sexual assault and femicide have all increased in the past months across Africa and the globe. The reasons of the spike are closely related to the coronavirus pandemic.

More sexual violence

Liberia recorded a 50% increase in gender-based violence in the first half of this year. Between January and June, there were more than 600 reported rape cases. The number for the whole of 2018 was 803 in the West African country.

Nigeria also saw an increase of sexual violence during the curfews. Two cases in June, in which young women were raped and killed, shocked the country. In Kenya, local media reported almost 4,000 schoolgirls becoming pregnant when schools were closed during the lockdown. In most cases they had allegedly been raped by relatives or police officers.

The UN’s MINUSCA mission in the Central African Republic reported another increase: 27% more instances of rape, and 69% more cases where women and children were hurt.

A clearly visible ‘shadow pandemic’

“The situation was already bad for women before the pandemic. The pandemic merely lifted the veil from what was not being seen,” Jean Paul Murunga of the women’s’ rights organization Equality Now told DW.

“It doesn’t mean the problem wasn’t there. It was there, and this helps open the government’s eyes to the real situation.”

In May, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “The scourge of gender-based violence continues to stalk our country, as the men of our country declared war on the women”. According to the latest statistics from the South African Police Service, every three hours a woman is murdered in the country.

The Gender-Based Violence Command Center in South Africa noticed a strong upward trend in violence against women during the lockdown from March 27 to April 16.

All words, no action

So far, the measures taken against gender-based violence have been ineffective, despite South Africa’s National Strategic Plan. The strategy was implemented in May to address prevention, protection, accountability, support and healing.

The Nigerian State of Kaduna recently introduced a law which allows for rapists of children under the age of 14 to be chemically castrated. Following popular protests, all state governors declared a state of emergency due to gender-based violence.

Meanwhile, in Malawi, the Supreme Court ordered the police in a small town to compensate victims of sexual abuse by officers.


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