Around the world, there has been concern about the rise in the number of gender-based violence (GBV) cases as governments have placed their citizens under lockdown to avoid the spread of COVID-19. According to the United Nations Policy Brief (2020) on COVID-19, GBV is increasing exponentially due to economic and social stress, coupled with restricted movement and social isolation. Many victims are forced to “stay in confinement” at home with their abusers while support services for victims are disrupted or inaccessible.
Despite the scarcity of available data, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, China, South Africa and other countries have reported an increase in cases of GBV since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. In the United Kingdom, there has been a 120% increase in incidents of domestic violence (Grierson, 2020). In China, the number of GBV cases reported in Jingzhou, Hubei Province, tripled in February 2020, compared to the same period the previous year (Allen-Ebrahimian, 2020). In South Africa, a report from the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) states that the number of GBV cases has risen by 500% since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown (Nehawu, 2020).
It is a fact that during pandemics such as COVID-19, measures to control the spread of the disease dramatically change the environment in which victims of GBV live, increasing their vulnerability to abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation and psychological distress. This calls for multi-sectorial services at all levels to be strengthened and enhanced. Victims must have the right to protection and access to services. As stated by Michelle Bachelet, the Head of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR, 2020): ‘Services must be based upon victims’ needs and safety… Services must be effectively coordinated in development and humanitarian contexts and include health sector response to gender-based violence including reproductive health, medical and psychosocial support; adequate police and justice response including legal aid to survivors; and economic services… .’
Furthermore, states around the world must increase efforts to raise awareness of the criminal nature of GBV and all services available to victims. Such measures and services should include physical and mental healthcare services, and police and justice services. All cases of GBV during COVID-19 must be effectively investigated and the perpetrators brought to book despite the pressure placed on policing capacity during lockdown.