Understanding and Responding to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) during COVID-19 and Beyond: New Strategies for New Times was the focus of a public webinar hosted by the College of Humanities.
The webinar featured the Commissioner at the Commission on Gender Equality Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, Ms Lisa Vetten of the University of the Witwatersrand, and UKZN representatives: student and gender activist Ms Ali Shongwe, Dr Angeline Stephens, Ms Janine Hicks and Professor Relebohile Moletsane, who chaired the forum.
The webinar examined how the incidence of GBV in the COVID-19 lockdown climate – ie the closing of workplaces, the curfew, and restrictive regulations – was affecting families and communities as well as strategies and mechanisms for strengthening networking, communication and support for individuals and groups.
It also focused on ‘what role players might perform to ensure the incidence of GBV is not set aside or marginalised in the rush to resume economic and educational activities’.
Further, it explored how authorities – government and institutions such as UKZN – should be responding to intensify action against GBV and the scourge’s new challenges, while further assessing individual responsibilities – ie students, staff, academics, and management – in the fight against GBV.
Said Mofokeng: ‘It is important to ensure that those who are in the periphery of society – based on certain vulnerabilities such as extremes of age, gender identity, sexual orientation, poverty, and migration – must be informed by a literal consideration and inclusivity of such individuals.’
She further identified that institutions of higher learning as important spaces where young people were moving from childhood into adulthood, and where among the conditions which kept them from thriving were ‘violence, drug use and abuse, homophobia, anti-blackness, misogyny and academic exclusion due to a lack of financial support’.
Mofokeng said the Commission on Gender Equality would continue to act as catalyst in order to ensure that access to justice for GBV victims and survivors was realised without hindrance during the national lockdown. ‘When access to justice is hindered in Domestic Violence Courts, the Commission on Gender Equality may act on behalf of a complainant. This will only happen in instances where the complainant is unable to get assistance from the courts because Domestic Violence Courts are designed to assist complainants without the assistance of a legal representative.’
Stephens said: ‘The current COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions have brought about the re-emergence of a long-standing debate around violence that relates to the interplay between the personal and public (institutional) domains.’
Framed within a feminist social psychological perspective, she considered how this dynamic shaped the nature of violence under the current context at home and at university as students and staff began to return to campuses. Stephens offered some suggestions such as strengthening current responses in a way that promoted collective responsibility through bridging the personal-public-institutional divides in the response to the challenge of violence and GBV in the current COVID-19 context.
Shongwe, as an intersectional feminist, questioned what comprised an effective national, ‘crisis response’; what institutions were mobilised; what resources were allocated; what policy and legislation (and enforcement) were committed, and the urgency of prevention and solution finding. ‘The year apart between the official declaration of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) as a national crisis, compared to the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic as a national disaster, reveals a bipolar understanding of what “crisis response” means to the South African government, or more worryingly, the understanding that not #AllCrisesMatter.’
She noted that ‘similar to the anti-racism required to transform a racist society, feminist (anti-patriarchal) and communitarian values can sufficiently deliver upon the expectations of our constitutional democracy, where the shadow pandemic of GBVF inhibit the improvement of our quality of life’.
According to Vetten, COVID19 and the extraordinary conditions created by the lockdown challenge the ways people conventionally think about gender and violence.
Vetten spoke on the incidence of violence under lockdown as well as on the helping response put in place, noting the inadequacies and apparent inaccuracies in available data. She linked these silences and omissions to some of the other new realities caused by the lockdown, and posed critical questions around how the public conceptualised violence, who it was assumed to affect, and what was generally regarded as appropriate interventions, calling for targeted research to address these issues.