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The shadow pandemic of gender-based violence

  • Published at 05:16 pm November 24th, 2020
violence against women gbv
Representational photo: Bigstock

In the second survey, in May 2020, a total of 53,340 respondents mentioned 13,494 incidents of violence, where 4,160 had not experienced violence before the Covid-19 pandemic

Lockdowns and social distancing measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have left many people trapped in their homes and this has unwittingly facilitated the rise of another, more insidious pandemic – that of gender-based violence.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified, according to UN Women.

A series of studies by Manusher Jonno Foundation published in June found that in April, 1,672 women and 424 children out of a total of 4,249 women and 456 children who were among the respondents experienced abuse for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In the second survey, in May 2020, a total of 53,340 respondents mentioned 13,494 incidents of violence, where 4,160 had not experienced violence before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Furthermore, 97.4% (11,025) of altogether 11,323 women were victims of domestic violence, 170 child marriages occurred and 233 were stopped in May.

Data from a June survey show that 26% of the total number of women and child victims had never been violated before the Covid-19 pandemic.  

In the month, 3,332 women and children out of 12,740 became new victims. About 48% (1,376) of the total number of child survivors were new victims in June, while 20% (1,956) of the total number of female survivors had not been violated before the pandemic. 

In May, 61% of all child survivors and 25% of all female survivors had been new victims.

Rape follows domestic violence

Nina Goswami, senior deputy director of the Legal Aid Unit at ASK, said there was not enough concrete research on the matter but the experiences of rights activists had shown that a rise in the trend of domestic violence was followed by a rise in incidents of rape.

“It is not a new trend. Rapes saw a significant rise during 2019 and the trend continues this year as well,” she said. 

“Data collected from national dailies during October showed at least 12 women and girls raped in a single day. That is simply inexplicable,” Advocate Nina added. 

“Domestic violence gained momentum from April to May, while rapes increased from June onward,” she further said.

Limited access to justice, lack of problem monitoring

Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) President Advocate Salma Ali said limited access to justice and the inability of the Social Work Ministry and NGO staff to conduct monitoring activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic had paved the way for the violence perpetrated by husbands.

Women and girls who were the bread earners in their families were affected most, she added. 

About 91% of the workers in the informal sector are female workers. Furthermore, the majority of the workers in garments are female. When they lose earnings or are in fear of losing jobs, tension grows in the family and they become victims of violence. 

The negative effect of the pandemic on mental state had also been playing a crucial role, Salma Ali said.

ASK’s Nina Goswami said: “During the pandemic, cunning people got the chance to exploit the relatively unpopulated environment and many women were abused and harassed when they left their homes for food.

“Another significant factor is digital access before proper digital literacy. Incidents of cyber bullying also increased significantly,” she observed. 

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