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Opinion: We Need Laws, Not Excuses, To Protect Women During Lockdown

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
Credits: She The People

The novel coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill with tough challenges and tougher circumstances. Scientists and experts are working very hard to find a suitable vaccine for everyone. Oxford started human trials. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are working tirelessly to treat the infected while facing the wrath of the public. Citizens’ role in this pandemic is to stay indoors while the authorities are containing the spread of the disease.

The lockdown is a challenge but for many women and children, it has also become a scary situation. The National Commission For Women reported that there has been a spike in the number of domestic violence cases committed during this lockdown. The NCW registered 587 domestic violence complaints between March 23 and April 16, which is more than the number of reports before that. Feminist economist Ashwini Deshpande revealed that the NCW received reports related to domestic violence and the Right to live with dignity, and “a smaller increase in rape or attempt to rape.”

The lockdown has put women and children in toxic homes at a disadvantage because they have nowhere to go. Often times, places of work, schools and colleges serve as escape for these women and children. At the same time, alcohol stores, outlets, tobacco and cigarette sales are banned during this lockdown. There are reports of cases where the crime was committed due to alcohol withdrawal, especially in rural places where people are not aware of their Rights and how to access help.

Women without digital access face a bigger disadvantage. The NCW told the media that they rely on women to report domestic violence on its fixed helpline numbers and through post, but they have been closed due to the nationwide lockdown. Then, they made their email ID available to women but as per the statistic, only 1/3 women have proper access to the internet. Apart from lack of electricity and internet availability in many places, women in toxic homes depend on their husbands for things like internet and communication. It is also possible that they have their devices confiscated by the men in their home.

Also, during this lockdown, police officers are more focussed on ensuring law and order and border security. For example, a lady from South India, who faced domestic violence at the hands of her husband, went to the police. The officer instead asked her to go home and sort it out.

India’s 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) survey had revealed that at least half of the female population might have experienced one form of domestic violence or the other but only 1% report it. Even those who report it are asked to sort it out instead of filing a complaint. At the same time, there is reduced access to mental healthcare due to the guidelines and rules.

This rise is not limited to India; China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Tunisia, France, Australia, etc. reported a severe rise in domestic violence cases. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his concerns about the increase in domestic violence cases around the world and instructed all the governments to step in.

What Can Be Done

The NCW launched a WhatsApp number (72177135372) for emergency cases of domestic violence. The complaints will be checked and provided immediate security with the help of state police and administration. Police stations are working, and the victims can call 100/103/1091 for help. Women and children are advised to keep a close-knit contact to communicate with during dire circumstances, recognize the signs of potential violence and be prepared.

More than anything else, there should be a change in the narrative around domestic violence because it is often normalized by the society. The crimes committed are often excused as ‘irritation’ or ‘frustration’. Lack of jobs, income or alcohol during this lockdown might be used as an excuse. Domestic violence should be treated as a crime, and there should be sensitivity and awareness regarding the nature of the crime.

The government should step in, especially in those places where women can’t access the internet. Apart from intimate partner violence, domestic violence also encompasses elder abuse, which is also a concern during this lockdown. Elderly people are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection as 65% of people who died due to COVID-19 are aged above 60. There are reports of elderly people being abandoned during this pandemic.

No-Win Situation For Women

Migrants walking home after losing jobs in cities.

It is disturbing to see images of men, women, and children walking with large bags to their native places during this lockdown because they depend on daily wages for living.

Women who depend on their husbands or fathers are further affected due to the lack of income. At the same time, there is already a situation where women are forced to work for less or no wages, especially in the agricultural sector, due to other responsibilities.
They have the primary responsibility of paying bills and purchasing necessities while men go to work. So, they are forced to stand in long lines for hours, and lockdown has mad the situation more difficult.

It has been reported from the United States that the landlords are demanding sex from their tenants instead of rent during this lockdown and accompanying financial crisis. The fact that people in positions of power are taking advantage of others’ difficulties is disgusting and angering.

In India, as people, mostly migrant and daily wage workers are forced to leave their places of work or evicted from their homes, there are rising concerns about the possibility of pimping of women and children to make ends meet in the financial crisis. Disturbing cases of rape and sexual harassment have been reported during these lockdown days. In Madhya Pradesh, a minor was raped, and her eyes were damaged. A visually-impaired woman was sexually assaulted while her husband was stuck elsewhere amidst lockdown. There have also been reports of harassment of women in quarantine facilities.

It is important to spread awareness regarding these issues, and the government authorities should take to the stage and address them. Political leaders should make it clear that domestic violence, child abuse and harassment, in any form, would not be tolerated. Authorities should make laws to protect people’s rights amidst the lockdown.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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