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The Shadow Pandemic: We Need To Stop Treating Domestic Violence As ‘Collateral Damage’

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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.

History acts as proof that the bodies of women tend to face greater risk during emergencies of disaster and crisis. Covid-19 acts as a constant threat to the entire world but fuelled by mandatory stay-at-home rules of social distancing, economic uncertainties, and anxieties caused by the pandemic, the world is witnessing an increase in domestic violence drastically, also referred to as the ‘shadow pandemic’ by the United Nations Women chief.

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Women Are Really Having It Worse In This Pandemic: Read On To Know Why

In India, the Delhi Police reported an 83.4% drop in the cases of rape during the lockdown, but at the same time, the National Commission for Women reported a massive hike in the number of domestic violence complaints during the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic has brought everyone to the niche of their homes, restricting people from engaging in their exterior lives.

Being forced to stay indoors, some men might experience a sense of restraint and powerlessness as a shock of their diminished masculinity, leading them to use primitive ego as their defence mechanism shields, which in turn, makes them retreat to coercive control within their locked doors. This was highlighted in the case where a man recently caused his wife a spine injury because he lost in a game of Ludo.

The mere portrayal of anger and audacity, in this case, exhibits the rise of violent cases against women. Increased consumption of alcohol has made people engage in physical arguments, even leading to demands of untimely intercourse from their partners. Due to a lack of access to contraceptive pills or sexual protections, women often feel forcefully assaulted against their own will, leading to multiple cases of marital rape.

Many women were victims of such brutalities even before the pandemic took over our lives, but due to the current self-isolating orders, it has deprived them of immediate support from their friends and families who they earlier resorted to for comfort and help. More than one-third of these cases go unreported because women are told by their elders, that they must bear the responsibility of saving their families and children.

This bottleneck situation often leads them to become silenced victims of barbarity regularly. The plight of migrants across the nation has been extremely disturbing for everyone to witness. However, we often forget that with the ongoing move of the migrants, women are expected to always be ready for any kind of intimacy required in that process as a ‘stress buster’, denying which, could cause them extreme fear and threat by their partners.

Due to low-income levels, the situation of sex workers across the countries has become stunted and inadequate.

What Can The Govt. Do To Amplify The Unheard Voices Of Women?

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Their voices are often unheard and neglected, leading them to be involuntary recipients of physical and cognitive violence Having said that, we must also remember the mental and emotional violence suffered by men during the pandemic, as they rattle with the worries of maintaining their livelihoods and keeping the families together.

Their self-esteem and moralities are constantly questioned by their family members due to providing low income, making them feel dejected and undergo immense stress.  Years of being told that they must be the ‘head of their families’, makes them worry and ponder extensively about the future, which results in high levels of anxiety.

The government and its citizens need to stop looking at domestic violence as collateral damage and actively take measures for reducing it. Taking inspiration from Spain, India should adopt the strategy of acode-word’ for women to use at pharmacist shops, which would act as a cry for help. The NCW released a 24/7 WhatsApp helpline number on April 10 to report these cases on an emergency basis during the lockdown.

Police stations should have individual commanding operations unit for Fast-track response to these cases with psychologically trained staff. The government should aim to announce stricter laws against domestic violence and use the system of Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) in rural areas to make women more financially independent. Community health groups like ASHA and SHGs would help women in combating economic deficits and become self-reliant.

The state should provide its citizens with specialized online psychological therapies for stress analysis and emotional unburdening program involving internal catharsis, irrespective of gender, or age bias. Most importantly, families should aim at working together indoors and focus on inducing gender amity and respect. Parents could use this opportunity to make their children aware of the consequences of such violence and instilling in them the realization, that violence should never be normalized as a mere act of ‘frustration’.

Domestic violence, that is emerging now as a dark feature of this pandemic, is a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience, and our shared humanity. We must not only survive the coronavirus outbreak but emerge renewed with the citizens as a powerful force at the centre of recovery.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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