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Women are on the frontlines in the Covid-19 battle, but GBV is taking its toll


Meokgo Matuba is Secretary General of the ANC Women's League.

Gender-based violence will only be defeated if we defeat inequality between men and women. This is what we as women will fight for every day, even as we take our place on the frontlines of the battle against Covid-19.

As we prepare for Africa Day on 25 May, we recall the challenges that Covid-19 has placed on Africa and in particular how the pandemic has affected women. 

But more importantly, in fighting the pandemic, hopefully society will also recognise the immeasurable and irreplaceable role that women play in our society. 

Recently, we celebrated International Nurses’ Day. While there are many male nurses, we know that historically nursing was a career entered into by women in the main. Nurses were often relegated to these careers because doctors had to be men. 

Today, of course, many women have become experts in medical fields and have made great strides in the medical sciences. Yet this has not necessarily devalued the role that women play as nurses; caring, giving comfort and watching those who are ill and frail. Nursing has proven to be a special calling of its own.

During this pandemic, which has seen fatalities mainly among older persons globally, nurses have been at the forefront of caring for the elderly, the suffering and those who need urgent attention. It comes therefore as no surprise that some nurses have actually placed their own safety and lives at risk in order to remain faithful to their profession. 

We think of those nurses who have become infected and some have even died of Covid-19 complications. We support the call that more must be done to support the health, wellbeing and safety of our nurses as they battle this pandemic on the frontlines. 

While we emphatically support the lockdown, one of the challenges that the lockdown has exposed for us, as a society, is the plight of poor people in our country. 

Some in our country, specifically those in the media, never knew the depth of the hunger and deprivation of our people. For some of them, this lockdown showed what many of us knew already; especially us, as mothers, grandmothers and women fighting to survive. 

Women’s organisations and women individually, without any marching orders, followed their natural instincts and made a plan when their communities were hungry. They mobilised, they organised and ensured that they could present to children and adults alike a meal, something to drink and even in some instances educated the community, through the feeding process, about hand sanitation. 

With the little resources they could amass, these women, who know their communities and where the vulnerability lies, ensured that something was done. For our older grandmothers and single mothers, they often had to rely on state grants to ensure that not only were their children fed but often the entire household and extended family members are dependent on those grants. 

Sometimes it is not good to point out examples, especially when there are so many. Yet at times the most striking part is that these women do it not to get recognition, not to post selfies on social media but go about their service in caring for their communities as if there was nothing special about it. But we know there is something special about their heroism. 

We commend our women leaders in government who have championed the fight of the poor and ensured that they work with community organisations and individuals in order to alleviate hunger and deprivation. 

We continue to encourage our women business leaders to mobilise among themselves and ensure that more women and women organisations have access to resources, opportunities and ways to transform the economy so as to ensure the empowerment not only of these women but almost automatically the empowerment of their communities. 

Many are shocked that in three weeks the national call centre on gender-based violence received 120,000 calls. As women, we are not. We live abuse every day of our lives. Yet we are also the warriors against this abuse. 

What is not often reported in the media are the countless organisations that help and assist women who are abused and who are the survivors of violence. What is often not encouraged is the transformation of our male-dominated economy so that women, the survivors of abuse, can become independent of men. 

Gender-based violence will only be defeated if we defeat inequality between men and women. This is what we as women will fight for every day. This is what we as women will continue to do for as long as we are on the frontlines of the battles against crises such as Covid-19. 

As the women of Africa unite and celebrate Africa Day, we remember that even though Africa may only have had one woman as a head of state, the future of this continent lies in the hands of women. We are building it every day. DM


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