GBV during lockdown: Reporting the shadow pandemic

Gender-based violence (GBV), human rights violations and violence against young girls saw a massive spike during the Covid-19 lockdown. So much so that it’s been labelled the “shadow pandemic”.

How the media covered violence against women and girls during the lockdown was the focus of a discussion at the “Putting Gender on the Media Agenda” webinar hosted by fraycollege and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) on Tuesday, 01 March 2022.

Speakers Nwabisa Makunga, editor of The Sowetan, broadcaster and media trainer in Uganda Sylvia Nankya and Ugandan Human Rights lawyer Dora Musinguzi joined moderator Barbara Among to talk about cases of violence against women and girls, how these cases increased during the pandemic, and the media’s role in reporting on these cases through different lenses.

Makunga says GBV is being recognised and seen as a major crisis in South Africa and that a lot of work has been done for it to be recognised as a massive issue – but, she says, then came 2020 and the Covid-19 lockdown…

She said: “All of a sudden, there’s a lockdown that forces everyone to stay home. And a lot of us begin to understand that this violence against women and girls takes place in the home.”

Makunga says her colleagues were writing stories about women being killed every single day.

“This really forced us to ask what the things are that create this environment to occur unabated, and what are the systemic problems that cause for the fact that when women seek justice, they’re unable to find it?” Makunga said.

She went on to say that what came out at a later stage, during the Covid-19 pandemic, was the scale at which violence against women and girls was taking place.

“What we had to do, aside from telling the story with numbers, was tell the stories of people,” she said.

Access to services in Uganda

Nankya says that when the pandemic started, the focus of journalists and the media was to get to the bottom of the virus, what it was and where it came from.

“But after some time, we started seeing a strange trend of stories relating to violence against women and children,” she said.

Nankya shared with the panel that people affected by these violations couldn’t get access to services because places were closed due to the pandemic.

“Women battered in their homes couldn’t find places of refuge because during the pandemic, these places were closed,” she said, adding that large numbers of children became pregnant and parents were up in arms, begging that schools be reopened to keep their children safe.

Violence in private spaces

Musinguzi was deeply concerned when they realised that during the pandemic, violence against women showed up in private spaces.

“We were being called left, right and centre about clients being attacked in their homes,” Musinguzi said.

She described the stories shared with her, saying, “everywhere, women were facing violence in their homes and by the time the months went on, we realised the impact on young girls – as we got reports of teenage pregnancies and violations and rape cases.”

Musinguzi said that the media helped to shed light on what was taking place during the pandemic, this way her organisation and others were able to get all the online links, cut out articles from newspapers and take this to whoever would listen, and then assist.

“There is power in naming the violence and who it’s being perpetrated against,” Musinguzi said.  

The webinar was a culmination of the Gender Justice Training Programme, supported by the IWMF, a six-month programme presented jointly for South African and Ugandan journalists.

The IWMF offered a competitive grant allocation for stories which fell within the Gender Justice theme.








Tamsin Wort
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