The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic since March 2020. Due to the importance of human-to-human transmission, social distancing and lockdown have been the control strategies adopted by most countries in the world. South Africa’s President officially announced a lockdown on March 23, 2020. This decision caused a significant change in the everyday lives of all South Africans and the World at large. In particular on travel or movement restriction, suspension of work and schools. Prolonged and forced contact between family members, reduced means of entertainment, boredom, loss of contact with wider social circles, and economic difficulties.

These factors might have led to the COVID-19 pandemic turning into a psychosocial crisis, in addition to it became a major physical health concern. Therefore, all these factors may have led to it becoming a psychosocial crisis. Violence against women is a public health problem worldwide and a violation of human rights. During humanitarian crises such as wars, natural disasters, or epidemics, violence expands mainly to the detriment of the most vulnerable groups.

Psychological impact on Women:

The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown triggered the onset of anxiety disorders and may lead to symptoms to be worse on those with pre-existing disorders such as chronic diseases.  It is widely accepted that women are the most affected, given that they are known to have a more anxious temperament: This trait-like phenotype is characterized by increased behavioral and physiological reactivity to mildly stressful stimuli. In addition, several genetic, sociocultural, hormonal, and developmental factors can influence an individual’s response to stress, and the biological role of gender remains a vulnerability factor to psychosocial stress.

This input aims to study the effect of the lockdown on the mental health of women and the possible impact of lockdown on violence against women. To our knowledge, this study is the first to evaluate the impact of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s mental health and violence in Africa, and the world at large. Many developing countries have responded to COVID-19 with travel restrictions, lockdowns and curfews to protect the health of citizens and fragile health systems. But with measures to support livelihoods lagging, women and the poor are hit hard.  Restrictions severely impacted the livelihoods of women traders in the Informal Sector in South Africa, and while men’s economic activity soon returned to pre-crisis levels, the effects on women’s economic security lasted much longer and it still is.  Even to date, many women are still struggling to recover economically.

The bulk of women’s employment is informal. Globally, women’s employment is overwhelmingly informal, with limited legal or social protection. In low-income countries, 92% of women work informally, compared to 87% of men. Contributing family workers, usually considered unpaid, account for 28.1% of women’s informal employment, compared to 8.7% for men. Many of these women do small-scale farming, making a vital contribution to food security. In urban areas, women are often overrepresented in the informal market or street vending, home-based work and domestic service. Take Ghana, wherein urban areas women make up over 80% of the 1.3 million market traders and street vendors, and 75% of the more than 870,000 home-based workers. In South Africa’s eight major metropolitan areas, three-quarters of private household workers are women – including domestic workers, gardeners and building maintenance staff.  

Even before COVID-19, women in the informal sector and those in low- and middle- income countries reported that childcare responsibilities limited their participation, productivity and earnings. Now, school closures have intensified their workloads and reduced earnings. Women workers in vulnerable employment have been the first to lose their incomes and will be among the last to recover. They may be less able to work as unpaid care demands increase and as public spaces become more unsafe. In India, for example, women farmers faced police harassment and violence as they tried to operate and sell their produce between towns amid lockdowns. 

 In most reported cases a high level of distress symptoms was found to be 57% Women had extremely severe anxiety and depressive symptoms, and 53% had extremely severe stress symptoms.  Also addition, violence against women was found to have increased significantly during the lockdown. Those who had a history of mental illness and who were abused during the lockdown were found to have more severe symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Women who had been abused before the lockdown seemed to be at a higher risk of violence during the lockdown.

COVID-19 Impact on Workers in General:

One of the main consequences faced by workers is the loss of jobs. Thousands of workers lost their jobs due to the pandemic. As we speak, many companies embarked on retrenchments and Unions attend section 189 consultations day in day out. While workers have suffered many kinds of impacts resulting from the pandemic, one of the main consequences of COVID-19 has been a reduction of working hours and in some cases, loss of jobs resulting from fear and restricted mobility associated with confinement measures. Three million South Africans have lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Thirty social science researchers from five South African universities came together to conduct the national Income Dynamics Stud Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey for May and which will continue until December. The first results of a survey of 7000 South Africans looked at the impact of the pandemic on employment, health and hunger, among other issues. Researchers found that 3million South Africans lost their jobs, while those who managed to keep their jobs, 1.5million did not have an income.

Still, Women bore the brunt of the job losses. Of the 3million job losses, 2million were women. Among those groups of people that were already disadvantaged in the labour market and already faced a disproportionate share of job losses from the pandemic (the less educated, the poor, black Africans and informal workers) women in these groups faced even further job losses, putting them at a double disadvantage.

Uncertainty about the future and fear of the unknown had a negative impact on the mental health of workers, especially as the pandemic lockdown has been going on for more than months. Studies about the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic reported an increased incidence of anxiety, depressive and obsessive symptoms, irritability, acute stress reaction fear of being infected, and infecting those around them.

Response and responsiveness to stress appear to be different by gender. Because of several underlying biological mechanisms, women may be more vulnerable to depression and anxiety disorders and might be particularly affected by stressful events. Indeed, starting at puberty, the prevalence of major depressive episodes is higher in female subjects, suggesting a hormonal and biological role in the susceptibility to anxiety and depression. Most of the time, the woman is the main caregiver and is more responsible for household tasks and for the care of children. This burden could have increased due to the temporary closure of schools during the lockdown. In fact, being a young parent, being a first-time parent, having many children, or having infants has been reported as being a potential source of exhaustion and may lead to parental burnout.


As President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the second wave of the pandemic, with more restrictions put in place. This is going to worsen the already bad situation, as it is a challenge to adhere to the regulations on preventing the pandemic. People are still in denial of the existence of COVID-19. This input should motivate and encourage Trade Unions Movement to evaluate and monitor the acute impact of COVID-19 on mental health and violence among women in Africa. It, therefore, provides considerable information given the cultural particularities of the region. In fact, it may be a sound basis for developing a more effective psychological intervention aimed at women in this region. Strengthening strategies to protect women during periods of crisis is urgent. However, a change in mentalities would take more time to set up. Violence against women necessitates a fundamental long-term struggle and practical intervention strategies. These changes must emanate from within societies themselves and not be imposed to effectively change mentalities. This starts with education within the family core and requires collaboration between civil society, Trade Unions and government to promote real long-lasting changes.


Input by Mary Nxumalo

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