Shadow Pandemic: To Be or Not to Be at Home

Virus, Protection, Coronavirus, Face
Source: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/virus-protection-coronavirus-face-5020526/

“More than ever, having someone to talk to can make a world of a difference,” says Tinder CEO Elie Seidman[1] in light of the worldwide lockdown. The lockdown has limited most of us to our homes for more than a month. This is accepted as one of the important and effective steps to control the spread of the Coronavirus. This has given many the opportunity to spend more time with partners or families in person or online. The comfort and safety that your house and your parents provide is second to none, and it is a type of comfort that only the privileged are enjoying.[2] This could be a strong reason due to which millions of migrant workers decided to move back home.

Fear, Woman, Stop
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/stop-fear-violence-against-women-1131142/

But, is it really safe to stay at home? Not for every female[3]. According to the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4, 2018), every third woman in India suffers sexual or physical violence at home. Worse, 27 percent have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.[4] Most of the times perpetrators of this violence are husbands who unleash either physical (27 percent) or emotional violence (13 percent). For unmarried women, the experience of physical violence stems from mothers or step-mothers (56 percent), fathers or step-fathers (33 percent), sisters or brothers (27 percent), and teachers (15 percent).[5]

The situation in other countries is similar. With the extending lockdown, countries across the world have been recording the increasing number of reported domestic violence cases.[6] Most women have still not reported their domestic violence cases. They are either reluctant or are unable to report domestic violence cases. The global cost of violence against women had previously been estimated at approximately USD 1.5 trillion[7] and this amount is expected to increase worldwide.

Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries and it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them.[8]

Hand, Woman, Female, Nude, Fear
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/hand-woman-female-nude-fear-1832921/

At a time when women are already shouldering higher proportions of the domestic burden during the lockdown, escalating tensions due to depleting resources are further accentuating domestic violence behind closed doors.[9]  According to a U.S. study, “Unemployment and economic hardship at the household level were positively related to abusive behavior. Further, rapid increases in the unemployment rate increased men’s controlling behavior toward romantic partners even after we adjust for unemployment and economic distress at the household level.” [10] This holds true worldwide.

The situation becomes worse when the laws and the required mechanisms are not satisfactory. In many countries, the law is not on women’s side; 1 in 4 countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.[11] In India, the laws and the judiciary is often seen to be on the women’s side. However, the state governments couldn’t succeed in fulfilling their duties under domestic violence laws. With massive problems regarding appointment and working of the protection officers, absence of or inadequate shelter homes, inadequate service providers and counselors, patriarchal and uncooperative behaviour of authorities under the laws towards the women are some of the prominent factors which have contributed to this failure.

The domestic violence laws in India covers females, including minors, who faced any form of abuse in a domestic relationship. Rakhi Sharma from Centre for Social Research, New Delhi, stated, “Shockingly, a new trend we’re witnessing, is of married women asking to be rescued from parental homes. Mothers, fathers, stepmothers, and siblings are also being accused of domestic violence.”[12] Similarly in the U.S.: “The most common calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline of the US involve abusers preventing healthcare workers or other essential employees from going to work. They’re either saying the person is purposely trying to infect them with COVID-19 by going to work, or they see it as an opportunity for that person to lose their job to gain financial control or using force to not let them take preventive measures.”[13]

Non-government organizations and grassroots workers play a very important role in preventing violence and protecting women from further violence. With the lockdown and travel restrictions, it is difficult for local non-governmental organizations and individuals to assist these women. My fellowship host organization is unable to run the Nari Adalats (community women courts), and Nyaay Sakhis (adjudicators of Nari Adalats) are unable to visit their houses. However, Jagori has formulated strategies with the police to manage incidents of domestic violence and has its helpline. Jagori and several other gender-based organizations have submitted recommendations to the union government and various state governments on handling domestic violence incidents during the pandemic. It’s really important for survivors to know that in times like this, there’s still hope and they’re not alone. Isolation is one of the strongest tactics an abuser uses.[14] The WhatsApp group which Jagori created for the survivors is also a good mechanism to provide some emotional and emergency support.

We may think that humans are different because of the different socio-cultural factors, economic factors, gender, place of residence, education, race, caste, religion and so on. The pandemic, in multifaceted ways, has shown that we all are the same on some level. The sudden simultaneous increase in the number of domestic violence cases worldwide leading to a shadow pandemic is compelling evidence. To be in a safe domestic environment seems to be a privilege for many women. To be or not to be home depends upon our access to that privilege. If you do not have that privilege, immediately seek assistance from the national helpline, state helpline, or local police.


References:

[1] Brown, Abram. “Coronavirus is Changing Online Dating Permanently.” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2020/04/05/coronavirus-is-changingonline-dating-permanently/#1e2e0c993b22.

[2] John, Rachel. “Is India’s Coronavirus Lockdown Leading to Stress in Families or Strengthening Relationships?” The Print, 5 April 2020, https://theprint.in/talk-point/is-indias-coronavirus-lockdown-leading-to-stress-in-families-or-strengthening-relationships/395405/.

[3]  Males cannot file a domestic violence complaint under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. Hence, the term female is used to include women, girls, and the girl child.

[4] Lal, Neeta. “India’s Shadow Pandemic.” The Diplomat, 17 April 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/indias-shadow-pandemic/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ford, Liz. “‘Calamitous’: Domestic Violence Set to Soar by 20% during Global Lockdown.” The Guardian, 28 April 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/28/calamitous-domestic-violence-set-to-soar-by-20-during-global-lockdown-coronavirus.

[7] Mlambo-Ngcuka, Phumzile. “Violence Against Women And Girls: The Shadow Pandemic.” UN Women, 6 April 2020. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/4/statement-ed-phumzile-violence-against-women-during-pandemic.

[8] Ibid.

[9]  Supra 3.

[10] Schneider, Daniel, Harknett, Kristen, and Sara McLanahan. “Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession.” Demography (53.2), April 2016: pp. 471-505. US National Library of Medicine, 1 April 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4860387.

[11] Supra 5.

[12] Supra 3.

[13] Sandler, Rachel. “Domestic Violence Hotline Reports Surge In Coronavirus-Related Calls As Shelter-In-Place Leads To Isolation, Abuse.” Forbes, 6 April 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/04/06/domestic-violence-hotline-reports-surge-in-coronavirus-related-calls-as-shelter-in-place-leads-to-isolation-abuse/#5df03789793a.

[14] Supra 8.

Source of title image: https://pixabay.com/photos/coronavirus-mask-infection-virus-4957673/

Ayushi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Jagori Rural Charitable Trust, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. For her Fellowship project, she is assessing the implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 with respect to the role played by the Protection officers in the Kangra district and the Himachal Pradesh state government. Ayushi completed her B.Com LL.B. (Hons.) in 2019. She believes that the world would be a happier place to live in if we learned to treat all living beings with humanity and basic dignity, irrespective of our biological and psychological differences, belief systems, and distinct genetic makeup. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, she will be working with issues related to female education and child marriage. She wishes to help the women and the LGBTQIA+ in utilizing their innate power and channelizing that energy in breaking societal chains, gaining inner liberty, and happiness. In order to educate herself with the realities, she studied subjects such as law and social transformation, liberty, equality and justice, and completed a credit course on comparative human rights. She interned at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and at the Centre for Civil Society under Fellowship91 in New Delhi, and the Alternative Law Forum in Bengaluru. She visited villages in Madhya Pradesh to understand the difficulties faced due to water scarcity. She enjoys writing blogs and research papers and has written on several issues related to drug usage as a criminal justice problem or a health problem, lawyers becoming casualties of their profession, homosexual marriages, sin taxation analyzing the taxes payable by prostitutes in India, and hate speech and freedom of speech and expression. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, singing, writing poems, and reading books.

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