GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE DURING COVID 19: A GROWING PANDEMIC
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
By- Shambhavi Kant, 3rd Year Student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab
Gender-based violence is brutal acts perpetrated against people solely on the basis of their biological sex or gender identity. Both men and women are victims of these crimes but such acts of violence are primarily committed against women and girls. It has been observed that during any conflict or crisis gender-based violence increases and the same is happening now. The global outbreak of the novel coronavirus or COVID 19 has not only affected the health of people and the economy of different nations but also the condition of women and girls in various parts of the world. The executive director of U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has said that the COVID 19 crisis has created a “shadow pandemic” of violence. Gender-based violence or violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights. The pre-existing virulent norms and gender inequality prevalent in society are two of the major reasons behind such violent acts. Amidst this raging pandemic, a rise in the number of such violent acts has had a catastrophic impact on the condition of women and girls. The article analyses in detail the rise in gender-based violence against women and girls during the pandemic.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING LOCKDOWN
The number of women and girls affected by the issue of gender-based violence is stupefying. According to a report of the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every three women has been abused or has experienced physical or sexual violence. The most common form of violence is domestic violence or violence perpetrated by an intimate partner. A study has even classified “home” as “the most dangerous place” for a woman. UN Women has reported that after the outbreak of COVID19 there has been a global rise in acts of violence against women and it has been observed that in most of the cases the perpetrator was the partner. In India, there has been a sudden rise in domestic violence complaints filed by women. Even this unusual rise doesn’t paint a clear image as most of the cases are not reported. Women residing in poorer countries or smaller households are likely to have fewer ways to report such incidents. Therefore, the rise in complaints is only the tip of the iceberg as most of the women who are victims of domestic abuse or face domestic violence do not seek help. Some of those who want to report such incidents might not have the means to do the same.
Restricted movements and lockdowns enforced as a measure to prevent the spread of the virus have rendered many people jobless. Unemployment, economic crisis, and confined living situations have created a stressful environment at home. The economic and social stress caused by this pandemic can trigger incidents of domestic violence. Women are trapped at homes with their perpetrators. Domestic violence included causing physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse. It can also take the form of violent physical abuse like female genital mutilation, acid attacks, choking, and beating. In certain instances, women are also murdered by their partners. Unemployed women are at a higher risk as they are completely dependent on their partners and are more likely to remain in an abusive relationship. Moreover, the abuser believes that he is superior and has complete control over the life of the victim.
Domestic violence often occurs because the perpetrator believes that the abuse is acceptable or justified. Imbalance of power and control leads to abusive relationships Domestic violence not only causes harm to the physical health of the victim but also mental health. Many women suffer from mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and so on. Domestic violence often forces the victim to take some harsh steps. The trauma and stress caused by the abuses often result in women isolating themselves. They feel trapped and helpless, and thus believe that suicide is the only way out. Domestic violence/abuse is one of the main reasons behind the suicides committed by women.
Unwanted pregnancies caused by forced sexual intercourse or marital rape i.e. a form of domestic abuse can also cause both physical and mental harm to the victim. Due to restricted moments and the fear of exposure to COVID 19, women are refraining from visiting hospitals and other health facilities. In a report, UNFPA reveals that for every 3 months the lockdown continues an estimate of about 13 million women will not have access to modern contraceptives which will result in about 325,000 unwanted pregnancies. As the size of the family increases, the economic stress or tension also increases which in turn can trigger incidents of domestic abuse.
Children who witness domestic abuse are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, etc. they might become perpetrators or victims of domestic abuse in the future. It can be said that domestic abuse not only hampers the mental health of the victim or the person towards whom these acts are directed but also children who witness these acts.
Various acts and provisions have been enacted to prevent violence and ensure the safety of women. For example, the Indian parliament enacted the “Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005” to protect women from domestic abuse. “Violence against Women Act of 1995” was also enacted to prevent violence against women and provide protection to women who were survivors of violent abuses. Due to a lack of awareness and resources, many women are either not aware of such acts or they might not have the means to access the services available to them. During the raging pandemic, incidents of violence are increasing but the possibility of accessing services or help-lines available to the victims of abuse, are decreasing. This is because of restricted moments, lack of resources, and reduced field presence. To ensure the safety of women and girls, it is necessary to bring about certain changes in the implementation of the acts and policies available.
A pandemic is never “gender-neutral”. COVID 19 has affected the lives of women in various aspects. From unemployment to brutal acts of violence, the pandemic has hampered the growth of women. We already know that gender-based violence tends to increase during any crisis and have more than enough evidence to prove that the same is happening during the current pandemic. The efforts and measures are taken to ensure the safety of women needs to be future prioritized during these trying times. This in turn will help in decreasing the incidence of gender-based violence.
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)