South Africa: authorities must work urgently to curb gender-based violence under lockdown

As South Africa enters into its second week of a 21-day lockdown, the ICJ calls on  national, provincial and local government authorities to urgently implement measures to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and protect women and children from it.

The country has been under lockdown since 26 March, with the population remaining at home, physically isolated in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ of transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

However, the lockdown means that some are trapped in their homes with their oppressors.

“A lockdown impacts women differently. For some women, being forced into lockdown with an already abusive partner heightens the risk of abuse and violence. It also means less support and fewer chances to seek help,” ICJ Senior Legal Adviser Emerlynne Gil said.

On 3 April, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that the South African Police Services had received 87,000 SGBV complaints violence during the first week of the national Covid lockdown.

Among the complainants was the wife of a police officer who reported that her husband had raped her. The officer has since been arrested.

The South African authorities have taken some steps to enhance women’s access to protection from SGBV during this lockdown, including by ensuring that women have access to courts for urgent civil matters, such as protection orders, as well as ensuring that there is an SMS line through which they can seek help.

Social services and shelters have also been made available. However, the authorities can and should go further in ensuring that these services are widely publicized, and that women have effective access them during the lockdown.

“Under international human rights law, States are legally obliged to take measures to prevent, address and eliminate SGBV,” ICJ Legal Associate Khanyo Farisè said.

“The South African authorities should do more, in particular, by raising awareness about GBV and providing comprehensive multi-sectoral responses to victims.”

Under international human rights law binding on South Africa, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, States are obligated to take all appropriate measures to eliminate violence against women of any kind occurring within the family, at the work place or in any other area of social life.

In a previous statement, the ICJ also called on States to ensure that measures to tackle Covid-19 are gender responsive.

The ICJ calls on South African authorities to:

  • Widely publicize health and legal services, safe houses and social services and police services available to victims of SGBV, including the hotline 0800-428-428 or *120*786#
  • Effectively respond to reported cases of SGBV and provide protection to victims through a multi-sectoral approach involving all relevant stakeholders.
  • Investigate the causes of SGBV, including the surge of this scourge in the South African context during the COVID19 pandemic, and identify further measures to protect women against SGBV that are specifically required during pandemics.
  • Implement “pop-up” counseling centres in mobile clinics or in pharmacies to support women who experience SGBV.
  • Include the work of domestic violence professionals as an essential service and provide emergency resources for anti-domestic abuse organizations to help them respond to increased demand for services.


Khanyo  Farisè, ICJ Legal Associate, e: nokukhanya.Farise(a)

Shaazia Ebrahim, ICJ Media Officer, e: shaazia.ebrahim(a)

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