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Understanding The Rise In Domestic Violence Cases During Lockdown

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India, like the rest of the world today, is fighting with the COVID- 19 induced pandemic that has changed our lifestyles, work culture, habits, and introduced us to OTT platforms that we never knew existed in the first place. With India entering into a lockdown starting from March 24 that kept on extending till June 8, things became grim for a large section of the society. Post June 8, services started resuming in a planned and phased manner, and this came to be known as Unlock 1.

This naturally resulted in businesses, government offices, private as well as public sector resorting to the ‘work-from-home’ culture as opposed to in-person office as lockdown only authorized people involved in essential services to regularly go for their respective work. Everyone else had to pretty much manage by glaring at their laptop screens, the entire day and trying to procure the best plan of Wi-Fi because now, ‘Ghar Ek Office’ hai (Based on the popular yesteryear daily soap ‘Ghar Ek Mandir’, remember? Yeah, never mind!).

We all are aware of the fact that India is a patriarchal country, where in most cases, cisgender men work outside their homes and are compensated for it monetarily whereas cisgender women work inside their homes and are not compensated for theirs. So, with the lockdown, entire families started staying at home and the burden of that excess household chore fell on the women of the house.

Catering to the needs of all family members ate up their ‘me-time’, and let’s not forget the ‘cooking challenge’ which was being showcased as a trophy all over social media for some reason. Most families belonging to middle and upper classes chose to not employ their house-helps during the lockdown due to the fear of catching this dangerous virus through them since they’ll be visiting several houses every day, and there were some good-hearted people too, who cared for their house help enough to not avail their services during the lockdown.

Either way, in most cases, these chores also fell on the shoulders of the womenfolk in the family, and this otherwise ‘rosy’ and ‘cozy’ lockdown for many belonging to these classes turned out to be not-so-rosy and comfortable for women. They toiled harder than usual for the love of their family, or so they have internalized (conditioned) within themselves due to centuries of patriarchy.

With the commencement of lockdown, the print and digital media started bursting with reports as to how there has been a drastic increase in domestic violence cases on women. Domestic violence involves emotional, physical, financial, verbal, sexual, and psychological abuse. Episodes of threat, assault, intimidation also fall within the various categories and types of domestic violence.

A report published by The Hindu mentions that domestic violence complaints were high during the lockdown than those received between March and May in the last ten years. Although alcohol is not the sole reason behind domestic violence and abuse at home, the allowing of the sale of alcohol by the Government in several states further aggravated the problem.

Lockdown had already increased the number of domestic violence complaints registered and the sale of alcohol would deteriorate the situation in a lot of homes to a great extent. This move was not welcomed by several women organizations including the State Commission for Women in Punjab who believed that this would result in a rapid increase in such cases of violence against women who are now locked at home with their abuser.

A large number of women do not register complaints against their harassers. This is because they are dependent upon their abusers, have no bargaining power, and hence, are trapped in an extremely unhealthy environment thereby making violence and abuse a part of their life.

It further mentions the magnitude of alcohol-related intimate partner violence where India features in the list of countries where strong links between perpetrator drinking and intimate partner violence exist.

Another important reason behind the fewer registered complaints is because, more often than not, women don’t have the means to report or file complaints. As per a study, India has a wide gender gap in terms of access to mobile phones and the internet. Only 43% of women own phones, as compared to 80% of men.

World Health Organization in its report on Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol has talked about the link between alcohol use and intimate partner violence and how it affects ‘cognitive and physical function, reducing self- control…’ It further mentions the magnitude of alcohol-related intimate partner violence where India features in the list of countries where strong links between perpetrator drinking and intimate partner violence exist. A woman who was frustrated and fed-up with her husband’s alcoholism and domestic violence allegedly killed him when he came home in an inebriated condition in the first week of July.

The WHO runs widespread agendas (promoting policies that talk about the connection between alcohol use and violence, and thereby, endorsing and leading prevention initiatives which will ultimately recuperate public health) on issues to initiate and take charge of research, ascertain efficient prevention procedures, and hence, encourage action by the Member States, so that they can successfully execute interventions and bring out a policy that would aim at shrinking lethal drinking. In terms of policymaking, the World Health Assembly has prescribed that:

Public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol (WHA5826 [53]) of 2005 recognizes the health and social consequences associated with harmful alcohol use and requests Member States to develop, implement and evaluate effective strategies for reducing such harms while calling on WHO to provide support to the Member States in monitoring alcohol-related harm, implementing and evaluating effective strategies and programs, and to reinforce the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of policies. (As per World Health Organization’s report on Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol).

Ultimately, however, the role of public health cannot be overlooked which needs to form and implement measures to completely prevent intimate violence. For this purpose, there is an essential need of getting in place established and user-friendly health and criminal justice services along with the bandwidth to document and keep a check on the use of alcohol and violence that is induced due to it.

The lack of concern from the authorities and the government is worrisome because it seems as if they do not consider the safety of women crucial enough to ponder over, before allowing the sale of alcohol in such arduous and grueling times.

India, however, is not the only country witnessing a rise in domestic violence during the lockdown as it is happening in Italy, UK, Brazil, China, and Germany as well. The need of the hour is to have the authorities take the matter of women safety rather seriously and devise policies and schemes which would ensure that they lead safe and respectable lives in this coronavirus economy.

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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.

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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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