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OP-ED: A pandemic within a pandemic

  • Published at 10:28 pm September 21st, 2020

It is high time we pay attention to the surge in gender-based violence

The emergence of this pandemic has indisputably not only threatened the life and health of the masses globally, but also plunged one group of people into more risk of being abused. Ever since the lockdown, global reports suggest that there has been a sharp rise in gender-based violence owing to being captivated in a prison of a home with your abuser.

Women and children living with existing domestic violence have no escape from their abusers during the quarantine. It is a pattern being repeated globally. The UN Secretary-General addressed the issue of mounting gender-based violence in a video message in the beginning of the lockdown. 

Gender-based violence (GBV) is directed towards an individual based on their biological sex or gender identity, which illustrates the existence of this pervasive form of violence towards boys as well as gender minorities. It includes domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, femicide, forced prostitution, forced marriage, child marriage, acid throwing, etc, and it can occur in forms of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse; threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation -- institutional violence, whether taking place in public or private life. 

During April, a total of 4,249 women and 456 children became victims of domestic violence in the ongoing lockdown. Moreover, this survey included the number of women and children encountering domestic violence the first time. Almost 1,672 women and 424 children had never been abused before. A further 92% of children were abused by their parents and relatives, and a total of 33 incidences of child marriage occurred (MJF, 2020). 

It can easily be concluded that this survey doesn’t paint the whole picture, as many instances of GBV go unreported since the majority of victims are from semi-urban or rural areas and they do not know how to operate telephones or emails; this is coupled with the fear of being caught by the perpetrators, which has the potential to lead to more violence. Therefore, they are afraid to reach out for help. At least 33% of women and girls are currently unaware of where to seek help for abuse and/or ill-treatment by anyone, including family members.

The opportunities to seek help have become narrower as the ongoing battle with Covid-19 has overwhelmed health care centres as well as law enforcement agencies. Experts have expressed their concern that this worsening situation will remain unchanged as long as the pandemic continues. 

It is profoundly distressing to be acquainted with the fact that the lockdown has escalated domestic violence globally. An activist from Hubei Province, the heart of the initial coronavirus outbreak, has expressed that the rise of violence has tripled from last year, ever since the outbreak of Covid-19. Additionally, Adriana Mello, a Rio de Janeiro judge specializing in domestic violence, provided that there has been a rise of 40% or 50% in domestic violence during the lockdown. 

As per an article published in the Guardian, the Catalan regional government stated that calls to their helplines had risen by 20% in the first few days of the confinement period. Apart from this, countries like the UK, the US, Spain, Italy, Germany, South Africa, etc, have experienced a sharp rise in gender-based violence.

The murder of a 27-year-old Turkish woman by her ex-boyfriend ignited outrage in Turkey as well as around the world, shining a light on the country’s shockingly high femicide rate and government efforts to roll back legislation designed to protect women from gender-based violence.

In India, an initiative called “red dot” has been launched by the Women Entrepreneurs for Transformation Foundation, under which people can identify a domestic violence victim by seeing a red dot on her palm and inform NGOs or authorities. 

The founder of the initiative has illustrated the reason for such an initiative, attributable to women being fearful of lodging such complaints due to the constant presence of their abusers at home. The National Commission for Women India’s chief, Rekha Sharma, told NDTV that from March 24 till April 1, the NCW received 69 domestic violence complaints and they were increasing by the day. 

Experts are ardently placing their recommendations to eradicate this gendered violence during the on-going lockdown and beyond. However, this can be achieved through a collective approach, including governmental and organizational approaches of private and development partners, media organizations, civil society organizations, etc.

To eradicate gender-based violence during the pandemic, prevention of GBV should be included and aptly addressed in Covid-19 response plans. Health care staff should be trained to address GBV-related issues and collect data on the treatment of GBV survivors. 

Ensuring the effectiveness of victim helplines and shelters should be an essential instrument so that victims can receive rapid aid from law enforcement agencies and concerned authorities. Multi-sectoral services should be provided to the survivors of GBV, including psycho-social, legal, and online/telephone support.

Campaigns should be arranged to raise awareness, and forums should be organized to discuss such matters. Media organizations should not wince from publishing gender-sensitive matters. Men should be invited to engage in GBV conversations. Exemplary punishment should be given to the perpetrators, and for that, strict implementation of law must be of prime focus.

Furthermore, focus on political patronage must be given as well. This prevalent form of violence is the least talked about around the globe. It is high time we take our blinders off and pay strenuous attention to this.

Nusrat Zahan is an associate lawyer and a certified Human Rights Trainee.

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