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Domestic Violence amid Covid-19 Lockdown

When the announcement of locking down the whole nation was made by Hon'ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Different strategies were framed by the government and other organisations for tackling the situation of Covid-19. But this lockdown brought a rise in the cases of Domestic Violence faced by the females.

The United Nations defines violence against women as:

any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.[1].

According to World Health Organization, one out of every three women across the world face physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Almost one third (30%) of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence by their partner.

Global Increase in Domestic Violence

According to Ismael Yordi, Technical Officer for Gender and Health at WHO said, that complaints are received by him from almost all the countries of the world. We think there has been a rise of 40% or 50%, and there was already really big demand, said Adriana Mello, a Rio de Janeiro judge specialising in domestic violence. We need to stay calm in order to tackle difficulty we are now facing.

According to Judith Lewis Herman, a renowned trauma expert at Harvard University Medical School has found that the coercive methods used by the abusers to control their partners and children bear an uncanny resemblance to those kidnappers use to control hostages and repressive regimes use to break the will of political prisoners. The methods which enable one human being to control another are remarkably consistent,[2]

In Spain where lockdown rules are really strict and people are penalised for breaking them, but Government has told women that they will not be fined if they leave home to report an abuse. Emergency number for Domestic Violence received 18% more in the first 2 weeks of the lockdown as compared to the previous months.[3]

The Domestic Violence cases in the birth country of Covid-19 tripled in the month of February compared to the previous year, according to Axios. An NGO in Beijing combating violence and women equality has seen a surge in the rate of calls since early February, when the city of Hubei was locked.

The French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner in an interview asked the officers to lookout for abuse, when the French Police reported a nationwide spike of about 30% in domestic violence. Mandu Reid, leader of Women's Equality Party in United Kingdom has called for special powers to police to expel perpetrators from home for the duration of lockdown.

According to Zohra Yousuf, former Chief of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, financial distress is not only the sole reason for rise in domestic abuse and violence. Not only women are the victim of this abuse but children as well and these cases are not reported in Pakistan due to the fear of the pandemic[4].

Pakistan's Ministry of Human Rights in it's tweet mentioned the problem of abuse and violence, that women and children are vulnerable to. The Ministry after concluding it as an important issue has shared certain helpline numbers.

The United Nations agency for sexual and reproductive health (UNFPA) has estimated that there would be around 31 million Domestic Violence cases if the lockdown continues for the next 6 months.
Mirra Komarovasky, a feminist scholar in her book has evidence of the negative effects of unemployment, lost income and economic hardship on marital conflict, parenting quality and child well-being.[5]

Abuse and Violence in India

Across different countries of the world including Australia, France, Brazil, United Kingdom, United States, China and others have reported cases of increased domestic violence by the intimate partners. India, being famous for gender based violence is showing similar trends.

In India the signs of domestic violence and abuse appeared in data provided by the National Commission of Women (NCW) in mid of April which predicted almost hundred percent increase in domestic violence during the Covid-19 lockdown. In first 25 days of the lockdown between March 23 and April 16, The National Commission for Women (NCW) received 239 complaints via e-mail and a dedicated whatsapp number. Whereas, 123 complaints were registered in previous 25 days, which is almost twice the complaints received pre lockdown.[6]

The condition of women has deteriorated during this pandemic and has become an important issue for the nation. The main reason for this upsurge happens to be shelter in place and widespread closure of organisations related to Covid-19. Other factors to this issue are stress, associates risk factors such as unemployment, frustration, reduced income, limited resources, lack of alcohol and lack of social support.
Additional tensions have increased for the partners by reopening of liquor shops in different states. According to World Health Organization, alcohol can be a contributing factor in increasing the frequency and severity of violence and may result in an injury. Alcohol reduces self control and leaves people less capable of negotiating tensions arising in relationships.[7]

In past women in India have raised their voice in support of liquor ban and have campaigned saying liquor consumption by man leads to domestic violence and rape and also leads to squandering of family income. Government of Gujrat and Bihar have banned liquor sale in their states. Although some women in Bihar say that the 2016 Prohibition has helped to curb domestic abuse

What could have been done, and what can we do going forward?

The Former Chief of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has suggested that the Government, NGO's and people should consolidate their efforts to fight against Covid-19 and other challenges arising out of it.

In India we need an aggressive nationwide awareness about domestic violence, and various ways through which complaints can be registered. National radio channels, news channels, social media platforms should be used. When people are not able to file complaints through messages, posts or calls then essential service providers like grocery stores, pharmacists, hospitals must urge to provide necessary support and their messages to the authorities if needed. In France and Spain, pharmacists were trained to identify it customers facing domestic violence through certain code words like mask-19 is being used as a code for people who cannot speak openly, to indicate that they are facing abuse and seeking help.

Hundreds of Non Government Organisations are working to provide medical assistance, legal aid, counselling and so on. Therefore, in effort to fight Covid-19, the Government should allow civil society organisations, mental health organisations, counsellor to come to the aid of people facing domestic violence.

Courts have also taken cognizance of this issue. The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir has taken suo-moto cognizance of domestic violence cases during the lockdown period and ordered certain directions like creating special fund and reporting of cases in grocery stores, pharmacies etc. without altering the perpetrators.

The Karnataka High Court too asked the state government about the helpline members, and action taken on domestic violence complaints. The state government with helpline numbers, counsellors, shelter homes working round the clock to protect victims of domestic violence. The Delhi High Court recently directed the Central Government and State Government to protect women from domestic violence, following a petition filed by an NGO. The Centre, State Governments and Commissions for Women has submitted reports of action taken against domestic violence, spreading awareness about helpline numbers, shelters, appointment of protection officers.

The domestic violence and abuse that the women go through in the society basically arises from the patriarchal system prevailing in India. The female is always seen as inferior to males and therefore after marriage the males have a dominant position over their partners. This extant is so large that during the situation of natural disaster like coronavirus which is the most unpredictable situation that has occurred across the world, women are having a real tough time staying indoors. Therefore, now burden is on Government that while taking steps to curb one of the biggest disaster of Covid-19 that mankind has ever faced along with the issue of domestic violence needs to be tackled with priority. The problem of domestic violence and abuse is prevailing in India from centuries and the problem is still not solved.

In India, the Government has identified the need to formally integrate domestic violence and mental health programmes into the public health preparedness and emergency response plans against the pandemic. But, rather than blaming the Government we should promote awareness about domestic violence and showcase various methods through complaints can be filed

  1. United Nations. Declaration on the elimination of violence against women: UN, 1993
  2. Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol 5, No. 3, 1992
  5. Komarovsky, M. (1940). The unemployed man and his family
  6. Deccan Herald
  7. World Health Organization

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