Temi Ibirogba, Program and Research Associate, Center for International Policy Africa Program

Women protest violence against women during a demonstration Gugulethu, near Cape Town. Rodger Bosch/AFP

Across the world, calls to domestic help hotlines have significantly increased since mandatory lockdown orders began. Women (and children) have been confined to their homes, refugee camps and other spaces with their abusers and as a result, isolated from the help they need. In South Africa, calls to a gender-based violence (GBV) center in Tshwane doubled and texts increased over ten-fold within the first four days of the nationwide lockdown. In South Sudan, the infrastructure for receiving and tracking cases of GBV is not well established but 65 percent of women and girls have experienced sexual and/or physical violence in their life. Undoubtedly, in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when women who have suffered abuse have no choice but to be around their abusers who can no longer go to work, bars, sporting events etc., there is a strong likelihood of increased domestic violence.

South African domestic violence is rooted in a variety of causes but one the most pernicious rationalizations is that that poor black men, responding to the trauma and grief they have experienced under the hand of apartheid and subsequent structural racism, turn to violence towards those closest to them: their families. In a time where the United Nations has predicted that half of all jobs in Africa will be lost, men will be in an even more economically vulnerable state and many may take out their frustration on their wives, girlfriends and family. Frustration and powerlessness is also caused by a lack of food, a reality in many African nations where citizens have reported a hunger pandemic caused by coronavirus restrictions that inhibit many from making the money they need to feed themselves. Hunger is another contributing factor as the stress of no food in addition to no money leads many to lash out causing domestic violence cases to increase across the continent.

In response to the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, countries should consider implementing cash transfer systems. A 2018 South African study revealed that regular cash transfers to women and girls lead to a reduction in domestic violence towards towards them. The study shows that such transfers allow for a shift in power dynamics and results in less GBV. Governments around the world are having to inject large sums of money into their economies to prevent economic collapse and by also providing money directly to vulnerable women they can use economic policy measures to reduce domestic violence.

The Center for International Policy Africa Program analyzes U.S. foreign policy toward the nations of Africa to promote greater positive U.S. engagement