There has been a huge increase in domestic violence cases against women across the globe, and in India as well, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Organisations working on gender issues, policymakers, and other stakeholders have been raising their concerns. To discuss this and suggest solutions, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) in association with GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation organised a Web Policy talk on June 15, 2020.
Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI initiated the discussion and introduced the topic by highlighting that violence against women continues to be one of the most prevalent and least recognised human rights violations.
Prof Balwant Singh Mehta, Research Director, IMPRI and Fellow, Institute for Human Development (IHD) presented some important facts on violence against women: one in every three women in the world experiences physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime; one in every four women has faced domestic violence in our country; one in every three married women in the age group of 15-49 experienced physical and/or sexual violence. The most surprising part is eight out of ten such women reported their current husbands as the main perpetrators, which is justified by half of the women in certain circumstances like neglecting the house or the children or going out of the house without permission.
He mentioned that reports suggest a sharp rise in cases of violence against women after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and lockdown in Germany, Canada, Spain, United Kingdom, China, France, United States of America and many other countries. Similarly, as per National Commission for Women (NCW), there is also a significant increase in gender-based violence in India; in particular, cases of domestic violence reported went up to 914 in May from 271 in January.
The number of cases is highly underreported due to various reasons, and this needs urgent attention from the government and other stakeholders. Ms Anshula Mehta, Research Assistant, IMPRI told the story of Sara, and her mental and physical harassment by her family during lockdown. Ms Ritika Gupta, Research Assistant, IMPRI shared the story of a woman living in Kanpur and how she is suffering through domestic violence in this pandemic with her children.
Prof Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, Gender Impact Studies Centre, IMPRI, and Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, shared her views and said that women spend 312 min/day in urban and 291 min/day in rural areas in unpaid care work, while men spend only 29 min/day in urban and 32 min/day in care work. She mentioned the two worst outcomes of the current pandemic: rise in income inequality and an increase in domestic violence against women. Prof Kelkar noted that the lockdown has put a lot of pressure on women, particularly their burden of household and care work has increased multiple times, and also mentioned women health workers—ASHAs—who are in the cycle of delayed payments, rising expenses, debt cycle, face a threat to life and financial difficulties.
Dr Manorama Bakshi, Senior Adviser, Tata Trusts mentioned some recent studies and highlighted that as per a cost benefit analysis done by the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, GBV costs 25 times more than wars and impacts 2-3% of the global GDP. She also mentioned that the girl child will be most affected post-pandemic with a likely rise in cases of child labour and child marriages due to poverty. She also commented on patriarchy in our society and other social norms that hinder gender equality. Dr Bakshi suggested that the government’s positive actions would decide the situation of gender inequality in the post-pandemic times.
Ms Suhela Khan, Country Programme Coordinator – WeEmpower Asia, UN Women said that the pandemic has resulted not only in a rise in domestic violence, but also in a spike in the cases of sexual and ethnic violence. Lack of privacy at home for women is also a major reason for violence against women. She pointed out that many men have lost their job and the lack of income and frustration among them is converting into violence against women at home. She also said that the work from home has increased during this pandemic, which is providing a new way of work for women, who can make the work-life balance by working from home.
Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International mentioned the inactiveness of the police force in helping women who are in trouble and asked for active police action against the perpetrators. Dr Singh talked about the patriarchal overload of and in the society needs to be abolished by empowering womenfolk. He also raised the question of how men can justify violence against women in our society and that such a notion needs to be changed by educating the boy children in schools.
In the end, Dr Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI gave a vote of thanks to all panellists and attendees of the discussion and touched upon some important points regarding gender equality in society. He suggested that families and teachers should teach their wards, especially boys, about the importance of gender equality and removing the societal norms such as patriarchy and male domination and violence against women. Without removing such social evils, we cannot think about achieving the SDG goals of a gender-equal society by 2030.