Organisations working to promote women’s rights amid COVID-19 have called on the government to intensify gender-responsive solutions to the pandemic, especially gender based violence.

In a cyber dialogue sharing experiences of promoting women’s rights during the pandemic, grantees of the Women’s Voice and Leadership Fund acknowledged the efforts made by the Ministry Women, Youth and People with Disabilities in the Presidency to gather sex disaggregated data and target responses effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NGOs that are implementing Rapid Response COVID-19 grants raised several concerns including:

  • Women were forced to stay under confined conditions with abusive partners due to lockdown restrictions.

  • Access to protection orders and police services was limited as these services were closed in certain areas or depending on the infections at a particular service point.

  • The increased rate of unemployment amongst women and informal traders made the provision for basic needs difficult and almost impossible for women who are the bread winners in their homes as trade restrictions were put in place.

  • Increased risk infection where women went out despite the lockdown restrictions in order to ensure that their children are fed and supported.

  • Inability to access some basic health services such as contraceptives, HIV medication etc.

  • Women with special needs unable to access certain services.

  • People living with LGBTIQ+ persons needed to be educated on how to treat the LGBTIQ+ persons instead of rejecting them.

  • Corruption and sextortion in the distribution of food parcels, PPE materials and social grants.

  • The increased burden of unpaid care work of women who are at home looking after the infected and affected as well as their children whilst schools and Early Childhood development centres remained closed with children now attending school on an adhoc basis.

  • Widening of the economic inequality between men and women economic justice

  • Increased rate of mental health patients who have had difficulty being in lockdown, losing their employment and various other issues.

Presenters included Lesedi La Setjhaba Family and community centre, Coastal Resources centre, Persona Doll Training SA, Mankweng Community Law Advice Centre, Queerwell NPC, The International Federation of the Red Cross in the Southern Africa Cluster Office, UKAID and Global Affairs Canada as well as the Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities.

Chief Director of the Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities in the Presidency, Ranji Reddy said that the government has put in place interventions that include “escalation of food parcels, mass social relief through cash transfers of old and new existing grants, homeless shelters, expanded psycho-social support services, GBV services as essential services, safety plans, referrals and volunteers to identify poor households.”

The Chief Director said that the government was responding to four key areas which are Social Impacts, Economic impacts, Public health impacts and Gender responsive decision making and participation.

The social impacts which focuses on extreme poverty, food insecurity, social protection, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, including MHM; education, and unpaid care work. Whilst the economic impacts of the pandemic includes the impact on women in vulnerable sectors including informal traders, domestic workers, farm workers, women entrepreneurs, SMMEs, cooperatives and the services sector,” Reddy said.

She noted that the Public Health impacts include mortality of women from COVID-19; access to health care; Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for women health workers; impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on other key health services for women, including maternal and child health and reproductive and health services; the Gender-responsive decision-making and participation impacts on women’s voice and agency, representation and participation in decision-making and leadership and gender-responsive planning, budgeting and monitoring in the response to the pandemic.

Despite the challenges both government and grantees acknowledged that there is a vast range of opportunities. David Barnard author of the Impact of COVID-19 on African Civil Society organizations summarized the opportunities as “re-orienting operations, Digital Transformation, leveraging domestic funding sources, shifting power relations, strengthening advocacy, improving visibility, reinforcing relevance and credibility and building sector solidarity”

Sector Solidarity is one of the objectives of the Women’s Voice Leadership South Africa (WVLSA) fund. Grantees will draft a paper to be shared with government on six key areas: GBV & Femicide; Corruption in the distribution and coordination of food parcels and PPE materials;

Social grants; LGBTIQ+; Access to basic medical services i.e. contraceptives and HIV medication and access to the criminal justice system.

The Women’s Voice and Leadership (WVL) Fund is managed in South Africa by Gender Links (GL) forms part of Global Affairs Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. The fund has three grant windows; the Multi-year core grants, the Networking and Alliance Building grants and the rapid response grants funded by Global affairs Canada; a total of 17 short term grants were awarded, ten of these specifically for urgent action to protect women’s rights under COVID-19. UKAID via the British High Commission in Pretoria has provided an additional R1 million for twenty COVID-19 Rapid Response grants through the Southern Africa Trust.

All the presentations can be found on the WVLSA website under what’s new. The ongoing discussion can be found on the Southern Africa Gender Community forum. For more information, interviews or requests to republish GL News please email or phone 082 560 0066/ 011 029 0006/ 011 028 2410.