While the world battles against one of the worst pandemics of modern times for quite a few months now, half of the world’s population has been battling another kind of crisis that has largely gone unnoticed. While we practice social distancing and stay home for the larger good, a large section of women globally have been confined in their homes with, what the experts call, “caged predators.” According to the latest reports of the WHO, there has been a 60% rise in emergency calls pertaining to domestic violence faced by women across Europe in the month of April as compared to last year.
As per the “Gender Equality and Addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Prevention, Protection and Response” report of UN Agency for Sexual and Reproductive Health (UNFPA), there would be 31 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide if such restrictions and stay-at-home orders are to continue for another six months.
Back home, as reported by The Hindu, of the 800 complaints received on the online complaint portal of National Commission for Women (NCW) in the month of April, 40 % have been of domestic violence — the largest percentage of the total complaints in any month. This has prompted the NCW to launch a Whatsapp emergency number for victims of domestic violence to seek help amidst the pandemic.
“In general, domestic violence often increases during a crisis period and has been exacerbated multifold due to the containment measures and restrictions put in place to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus,” states Isabel Yordi, Technical Officer for Gender and Health with WHO Europe.
Clearly, domestic violence is a global issue transcending national boundaries, as well as socio-economic, cultural and class distinctions. It is so deeply-ingrained within the psyche and widely accepted part of our day-to-day lives that while the impact of the current pandemic on various aspects of our economic and social lives have been discussed, debated and studied extensively, the concerns of one half of the global population have largely gone unnoticed.
Domestic violence has much deeper repercussions than just direct physical abuse inflicted on women. It is also psychological and emotional violence while directly attacking the self-respect and self-esteem of women. It also undermines reproductive health, as well as psycho-social and emotional well-being of dependent children in the family.
According to a UNICEF Report Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children, children who witness domestic violence at home are at a greater risk of being violent themselves. There are higher chances of such violence becoming an intergenerational cycle. Not only are these children bereft of a sense of security, but also tend to normalise violence as an acceptable mode of conflict resolution. Domestic violence is thus perpetuated generation after generation. It is a violation of a fundamental human right.
Certainly, there are legal remedies and stringent laws against such violations. For instance, India has three laws that directly deal with domestic violence — the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (under which the act of domestic violence is related to non-fulfilment of dowry demands), and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. However, the access and implementation of these laws remains precarious. The reason for such appalling fallout is that legal recourse to a socio-psychological problem has always backfired.
No doubt, stringent laws do serve to prohibit such severe crimes, but that’s only treating the symptoms of an underlying problem. Even the prevalent laws and policies address merely the component of physical abuse while neglecting the psycho-social and inter-generational impact of domestic violence in such families. The long-term solution lies in targeting the root of the problem, which happens only when, besides making educational and work opportunities more accessible and affordable, we change the way we nurture our offspring.
The widely accepted notion, at a conscious as well as subconscious level, of inherent gender inequality has to be dismantled. This kind of gender inequality needs to be addressed right from childhood — the kind of toys we associate with gender, gendered dos and don’ts list, and most importantly, mutual respect and sensitivity training irrespective of gender.
Along with this, we need to incorporate psycho-social dimensions in laws, engage civil societies and communities, and address the plight of children impacted by domestic violence so as to break the chain of inter-generational transfer of violence.