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COVID-19 And Gender-Based Violence: Two Pandemics At The Same Time

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Jadavpur University students protesting against domestic violence
For the victims of gender-based violence, majority of whom are women, children and people of the LGBTQ+ community, home is unsafe and dangerous.

The recently emerged COVID-19 pandemic is a great concern for each and every one of us. 213 countries and two territories around the world are affected by this murderous virus, which originated from Wuhan, China, and till date more than 56,23,503 cases of coronavirus have been reported with a death toll of 3,48,760.

As a preventive measure, countries, suffering from COVID-19, have announced a nationwide lockdown, and India is one of them.

According to data from the United Nations, 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide are subjected to physical and sexual violence. One in every three women at some point of her life experienced physical or sexual violence.

The nationwide lockdown in India has exacerbated another pandemic—gender-based violence. It has just twice folded. The imposed lockdown in India to contain the coronavirus has restricted the victims with their perpetrators under the same roof. For the victims of gender-based violence, majority of whom are women, children and people of the LGBTQ+ community, home is unsafe and dangerous. Most of these victims are not even independent or self-reliant, and therefore they are left with no choice but to live with their perpetrators.

As NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma said, the highest cases of gender-based violence can be attributed to the lockdown imposed since March 24, which has restricted the victims with their abusers.

India has reported a 50% rise in domestic violence cases. According to a report of NALSA, a total of 144 cases of abuse were filed in Uttarakhand, followed by increasing number of cases in Haryana and New Delhi. NCW only received a total of 315 domestic violence complaints in the month of April which was only 116 complaints in the first week of March and 257 in the final week of March (March 23 to April 1). An analysis report of NCW showed, a total of 800 complaints were received of various crimes against women, out of which 40% constituted domestic violence related crimes.

Apart from domestic violence, another form of violence that has seen a significant rise in the month of April was Cyber Crime. NCW data also has showed that the cyber offence complaint has increased from 21 (online and by post) in February, 37 (online and by post) in March to 54 (online) in the month of April. All these complaints were received either online or by WhatsApp, and no complaints were made by post which means that the victims who don’t have to internet are unable to complaint.

An analytical report by Hindustan Times stated that while some states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Telengana have reported a decline in the number of domestic violence complaints, some other states received a spike in the number of calls complaining of domestic violence.

This clearly indicates that making complaints about instances of domestic violence depend upon the availability of space and tech in hand of the victims as they are sharing the space with the perpetrators.

Yes, we can say that the growing number of sick people, compulsory stay at home with the perpetrators, increased anxiety, financial crisis and job uncertainty, mental breakdown, physical distancing and lack of access to outer world have accelerated gender-based violence, but these causes behind the saddest reality can never justify the violence because violence, no matter what is accepted, should always be punishable.

Not only women but children are also becoming victims of this gender-based violence. The government child helpline number has received 92,000 calls within 11 days of announcing nationwide lockdown and the number is increasing day-by-day.

Children are said to be the worst victims of gender-based violence not only because they are too young to understand the nature of violence, but also because they have no way to raise their voices unless and until any family member gives voice to their pain. However, when the perpetrator is none other than a family member or close relative of the child, they are forcefully conditioned for normalizing of violence and confirming to that which is the crux of patriarchy.

Being an NGO professional and a gender rights activist, I have witnessed how children are taught to approach their trustworthy family members whenever they experience any bad touch. But we have forgotten to mention that the abuser could also be their family members—even own parents as it happened in Madhya Pradesh where a girl was raped twice by her father within a span of 16 days during this lockdown while her mother remained a mute spectator.

I would like to quote a few sentences of a letter penned by two lawyers Sumeer Sodhi and Aarzoo Aneja to CJI to take suo motu cognizance of increase in number of child abuse cases during ongoing nationwide lockdown to prevent spread of corona virus:

“Though there is an increase in the number of cases being reported of domestic violence, but since there is a possibility of grown-up women fighting for her rights as opposed to a child who possibly doesn’t even know what rights he/she even has, the present letter is restricted for welfare of children.”  

Taking LGBTQ+ people into consideration, they are stuck even without access to food. As they are the minority of minorities, there are a lack of proper representation and records of problem that the LGBTQ+ people are facing.

They have been denied access to education, jobs, many of them working as sex workers, but because of the lockdown neither are they able to earn nor are they able to attract empathy of people to supply them with enough to at least make both ends meet. Anything that stops a person from practicing equality is a matter of violence, and the transgender people are still fighting for their equal rights of identity.

This lockdown has once again put us in front of a mirror for self-reflection. I was a bit optimistic that this lockdown period may enlighten the dominating, subjugating nature of patriarchy and would help them to empathize with non-male genders who have been living in quarantine since ages, but now, I think this is only possible in my fantasy world.

Violence is an integrated part of our society. What else would be more depressing than accepting the fact that women, children and LGBTQ+ people are even not safe with their own family members? There must not be any effort, logic or intellectual statement to justify the cases of reported or non-reported violence. No doubt India and many other countries are going through two different pandemic at the same time: while one (COVID-19) is so prevalent; another (gender-based violence) is the “invisible pandemic”.

We as a country, as citizens, as mere human beings can’t afford to remain silent seeing these growing incidents of violence. As the United Nations have emphasized, countries must include a gender perspective in their responses to COVID-19 to protect its people not only from the dreadful coronavirus but also from getting victimized by domestic violence.

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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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