Many of the victims of COVID-19 in Africa don’t have the virus. Instead, as the accompanying article from Deutsche Welle points out, they are the women who have been beaten, raped, and murdered in what has been called a shadow pandemic, for as the virus spread and movement restrictions were implemented, a marked uptick in gender based violence (GBV) followed.

The article cites several examples of the rise in this grim statistic, including Liberia, which saw a 50% increase in GBV in the first half of 2020. Kenya serves as another example. When schools closed there as a safety precaution against the virus, almost 4,000 schoolgirls became pregnant, with many allegedly raped by relatives or police officers. In Nigeria, people were shocked when two cases this June came to light where young women had been raped and killed.

High levels of violence against women in some parts of Africa are not something that just began with the spread of COVID-19. As one person from a women’s rights organization noted, even before the pandemic the situation for women “was already bad.” Another individual claims the driving forces for GBV include drug and alcohol abuse, but that the most significant factor is the low status of women. The pandemic made the situation worse, for during curfews subjugated women are at the mercy of their male

There have been some attempts by governments to address GBV. In Kaduna, a Nigerian State, a law was introduced to allow for the chemical castration of rapists whose victims are under the age of 14, and in Malawi, the Supreme Court ordered the police in a small town to compensate the people they had raped. There are other examples, but as the article explains, the measures taken against GBV in many instances have been relatively ineffective.

Some suggestions are provided by the article’s author to combat GBV, including improving the status of women and including more of them in government leadership positions. Additionally, a bigger share of national budgets should go towards women’s issues, such as family planning, as often it receives a lower priority than other needs such as infrastructure.

The pandemic has exacerbated an already significant problem in many parts of Africa, gender-based violence, with political will, as the article notes, being a necessary ingredient to help solve it. Until more is done, paralleling the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be this shadow pandemic.

The number of cases of sexualized violence and femicide in Africa has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: “Violence against women: Africa’s shadow pandemic,” Deutsche Welle, 6 October 2020.

“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.

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 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? As long as governments consist only of men, gender-based violence will remain a “shadow pandemic.”

According to Murunga, one thing above all must change: African governments must include more women able to speak for and with other women.

In some countries, governments have created bodies or issued statements against gender-based violence. But government budgets rarely include money for concrete measures.

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