The resulting lockdown after the coronavirus pandemic was a preventive measure to refrain from the destruction that the Covid-19, which marked its origin in Wuhan, China, has caused. Now, the virus is rapidly moving to large population without considering any differences between caste, class, gender, race, region, religion or whatever kind of differences it may be.
All over the world, the death toll has been increasing for months and a proper vaccination has not been found yet. However, nations and their governments have been taking several steps in order to take control over the disastrous effects of the virus. Lockdowns announced in China, Italy, Russia, India, Iran etc. were some of the major steps taken towards effectively preventing people from getting infected.
But as everything has its pros and cons, so has the lockdown on our economic, physical, social and mental lives. But let’s focus a bit more and observe its effects on the ‘vulnerable’ section of the population that includes senior citizens, women and children.
Many reports by research institutions mention how the pandemic has affected this population: senior citizens are facing a sense of loneliness as they feel more burdensome on their families than usual, children are facing a lack the educational facilities and outdoor exposure, and women are experiencing a hike in domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse during the lockdown.
Psychologically, women appear to be suffering more than men. From the most recent Kaisar Family Foundation survey, women were 16% more likely to say that coronavirus-related worry or stress has negatively impacted their mental health, compared to men (53% vs 37%). Compare this to a similar poll taken two weeks earlier, where this gender gap was just 9% (36% vs 27%). Two weeks earlier, there had been just a difference of 5% between genders (36% vs 31%), suggesting that mothers may be bearing a disproportionately large part of the burden as time goes on.
For women who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19 have trapped them in their homes with their abusers, isolating from the people and the resources that could help them. And this is the case for almost every country. The helpline numbers given for domestic violence survivors have themselves reported that they have been receiving more calls than usual during the lockdown.
“Perpetrators are threatening to throw their victims out on the street so they get sick,” Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told TIME. A member of the Indian women helpline stated that “the survivors have been complaining of abuse.” While some are justifying these complaints along with an explanation — for instance, the lockdown has created pressure on the minds of ‘breadwinners’ and this must be a reason why they are venting out their frustration on their ‘loved ones’. But, does these count as a valid reason to oppress or abuse anyone?
A similar situation has been explained by Ray Jones, “We know that domestic violence is rooted in power and control.” She added, “Right now, we are all feeling a lack of control over our lives and an individual who cannot manage that will take it out on their victim.” She said that while the number of cases of abuse may not rise during the coronavirus crisis, people who were already in an abusive situation will likely find themselves facing more extreme violence, and can no longer escape by going to work or meeting friends.
From Europe to Asia, millions of people have been placed under a lockdown, as the coronavirus continues to infect millions. But Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Women, stated to TIME that:
“The very technique we are using to protect people from the virus can perversely impact victims of domestic violence. While we absolutely support the need to follow these measures of social distancing and isolation, we also recognise that it provides an opportunity for abusers to unleash more violence.”
One out of three women in the world experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organisation, making it “the most widespread, but among the least reported, human rights abuses.” While men, too, experience domestic violence, women make up for the majority of the survivors. However, during times of crises such as natural disasters, wars and epidemics — the risk of gender-based violence takes a toll.
In China, the number of domestic violence cases reported to the local police tripled in February compared to the previous year, according to Axios. Reports from third world countries are a wakeup call to the cases that are right now covered under the Covid-19 strata.
The coronavirus crisis, as it expectedly pushes the world economy into a recession, will also result in a budget cut of social services, including help for survivors of domestic violence. Organisations fighting domestic violence are developing new strategies to support victims under the lockdown.
Digital contact with victims during this time has been suggested, but it will be difficult for survivors to call while at home with their abusers. The helpline does offers services via online chat or texting, making it easier for victims to seek out help from home. Bhatia from United Nations Women has also called for governments to provide packages for paid sick leaves and unpaid care work in order to allow women facing domestic violence to maintain financial independence from their abusers. She added that in order for this public health response to be gender-sensitive, women will have to have decision-making power.