FIGHTING A DOUBLE PANDEMIC
Fighting a double pandemic
1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS
The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has led to a huge strain on the economies of the world, institutions and social welfare sectors, causing them to succumb to the pandemic. As the lockdown period extends there is a possibility of aggravation of risk in the conditions of millions who are caught in the web of domestic and gender-based violence.
This editorial explores the effect of the pandemic on gender-based and domestic violence.
2. UNDERSTANDING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
2.1 Domestic Violence
- Domestic violence can be defined as violent and aggressive behaviour at home and in most cases involves violent abuse of the spouse.
- Domestic Violence is not just an act of physical violence. It is any behaviour intended to gain dominance and exert influence over the other gender.
- Types of abuses
- Physical Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Verbal Abuse
- Economic Abuse
- Control behaviour
2.2 Causes of Domestic violence
- The aggressive attitude of men towards women due to a patriarchal mindset.
- Poverty and lack of education also leads to an increase in domestic violence
- Dominating or controlling behaviour.
- Alcoholism and substance abuse can often lead to or aggravate domestic violence.
3. EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, and essential lockdowns and other social safety measures are enforced, its effect are felt not only in the economic sphere of life but personal, familial and societal spheres as well.
3.1 Rise in gender-based violence amidst COVID-19
- The COVID-19 is reported to have led to a rise in violence at homes at an alarming rate and women are at the receiving end in most of the case and the worst sufferer.
- The lockdown has caused the victim and abuser to be locked together and consequently, the number of domestic violence incidents have shot up.
- This has been reflected by a huge surge in number of calls to the emergency helpline.
- The rise is anywhere in between the range of 25 – 300%.
- There has also been a huge spike in internet searches for support for the sufferers of domestic violence.
- The number of domestic homicides has also risen.
- These numbers are a scathing indictment of gender biasness and subordination of women in our society.
3.2 Lessons from the past
- Empirical evidence shows that women have been in a disadvantaged position and the worst sufferers of crises and domestic violence increases under such situations.
- In West Africa, 60% of total deaths in the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak were women.
- Similarly, the 2010 Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand saw a sharp rise of 53% in domestic violence.
- This can be attributed to gender roles and evil practices that undermine the position of women like early and forced marriage, patriarchal society and limited access to health services by women.
4. WORST SUFFERERS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
While any gender can be a sufferer of domestic violence, generally women and children are the worst hit.
4.1 Effect on women:
- The unpaid care work done by women in the household is three times compared to men.
- Women make up 70% of the labour force in health and social care sector. This leaves women equally exposed to infections if not more.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive lockdowns and schools have been shut closed at mass levels.
- This will lead to a further increase in the learning and education gap between the two genders and exposes many girls and young women to the evils of sexual exploitation, early marriage, early pregnancy or forced marriage.
4.2 Effect on children
- The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on children as well.
- With schools shut, children are not able to report abuses to their teachers and are not able to find trusted people to confide in.
4.2 Other factors that have worsened the situation include:
- Restriction on house visit by police and health officials
- Violence shelters are being converted into health facilities
- The courts of justice are also forced shut
The cumulative effect of the abovementioned conditions is that the victims find themselves trapped, hopeless and abandoned.
5. HELPING THE VICTIM
Following steps can be taken to help the victims of domestic violence.
5.1 Steeping up Health Systems
- Provisioning of universal basic health care free of charge at the point of delivery is the most important priority.
- Both empirical and logical evidence suggests that a weak health system and vulnerability to domestic violence are directly linked.
- An immediate solution to address domestic and gender-based abuses is to ensure immediate and adequate access to health care by the victims of these abuses.
5.2 Ensuring Financial Independence
- Financial independence is beyond doubt the most powerful tool for women empowerment.
- Experience shows that when men and women are employed, their interactions are reduced and consequently the incidents of domestic violence fall down.
- The post-COVID-19 economic strategies should emphasize on dedicated and priority funding of micro, small, and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs) and the informal sector, especially those led by women entrepreneurs.
- Many women are in dire need of financial independence to escape the clutches of domestic violence.
5.3 Access to justice
- While a large number of cases of domestic violence are not reported, access to justice for the reported cases is also low.
- Innovative approaches as virtual hearing could help increase access to justice.
- Women should also be provided with free legal aid.
5.4 Other steps include:
- Keeping domestic violence refuge centres open during the COVID-19 epidemic.
- Businesses, governments, organizations, NGOs etc. should join hands to provide alternate shelters to victims of domestic violence in case the violence shelter is converted into a health facility.
- Creating employment opportunities for women through virtual meetings, seminars,
- Inter-organizational sharing of knowledge, resource and experience should be encouraged and the best practices should be adopted.
A 2019 research entitled ‘The Economic Cost of Violence against Women and Girls: A Study of Seychelles, conducted in the pre-COVID-19 times reveals that gender-based violence leads to losses up to 4.625% of GDP. Hence, in the economic prosperity of the world, women have an equal share and cannot be left behind.
6. INDIAN EFFORTS
6.1 Steps taken
- The National Commission for Women (NCW) recorded more than a two-fold increase in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault in the first week following the lockdown in India.
- The National Commission for Women (NCW) also recorded a threefold rise in police apathy towards crimes where women are the victim.
- To tackle such challenges, The National Commission for Women (NCW) launched a helpline number where the victims of domestic assault could seek help through instant message services (WhatsApp) instead of calling or emailing.
6.2 What more can be done?
- Raising awareness for the crime against women and disseminating information to put and end to the evil.
- The society should encourage and inculcate equal sharing of domestic responsibility.
- Women should not be devoid of affordable and comprehensive access to healthcare facilities including maternity service and abortions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an atmosphere of uncertainty, unemployment, food insecurity and a combination of this may create inadequacy in men.
These actors will aggravate the gender-specific tensions in household and women will bear the brunt.
Lack of access to friends, family, confidante, counsellors and support organizations is going to further deteriorate the situation.
All members of society should join hands in making the household feel safe and secure to both, women and children who are the worst sufferers of domestic abuse.