TW: Domestic violence, abuse.
“The use of rape and enslavement as weapons of war MUST END!” said Widad Akrawi.
Discrimination and violence against women have been persistent since times immemorial. Women have been grappling with gender-based violence at home and in workplaces since forever.
However, the intensity and frequency of this toxicity have increased manifold during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
Between March and May alone this year, the number of domestic violence complaints was the same as put together in the last decade. There has been a sharp rise in both physical and psychological abuse faced by women in these few months making women vulnerable.
From dealing with violent and emotionally unavailable partners, abusive in-laws, to handling the pressure of household chores, gender-based violence has seen a surge due to restrictions on mobility during the lockdown months.
The quarantine process was a significant step towards reducing the community spread of the deadly Coronavirus, but it manifested morbid psychological and socially repugnant consequences. This has been termed as a ‘quarantine paradox‘ by researchers. This seemed to have no solution as people were confined indoors. This ‘Hobson’s choice-esq’ situation took a toll on people’s mental wellbeing and the frustrations surmounted. People were left without jobs and they channelized their frustrations by abusing their partners at home. This has been termed by the UN as the ‘shadow pandemic‘. However, men need to realise that abusing a partner can in no way help them out of their stressful situation. Supporting each other in such tough times can salvage their chances of being happy.
Substance abuse among men has also increased during the lockdown months. My domestic help recounts her harrowing story of being beaten up almost every other day by her husband since the lockdown started. Her husband is a rickshaw puller who was left without a single penny during the initial months of the pandemic.
He constantly inflicted blows on her demanding money for alcohol. He did not even spare his seven-month-old baby from his savagery and slapped her so hard in a fit of rage that the little one developed a permanent hearing impairment. Tears roll down her eyes as she, with a heavy heart, shared her days of distress and resorted to asking me for some aid.
Not only within domestic spaces but digital abuse against women has also witnessed a steep rise.
A report on online abuse against women by the World Wide Web Foundation says, “Here is a pandemic of online gender-based violence emerging during Covid-19, and it must be addressed now. The increased domestic violence against women witnessed during the crisis is spilling into the online space, turning the lifeline of the internet into a hostile space.”
The same article quotes Tim Berners-Lee (the co-founder of the World Wide Web Foundation ) who warns, “The web is too often not safe for women. 52% of young women and girls we surveyed said they’d experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private images without consent. 87% said they think the problem is getting worse.”
It was only the last day that I was trying to promote my YouTube channel on recitation and storytelling among some of my Facebook friends and all I received were flirtatious comments and dirty texts. I was disappointed beyond measure as my work did not receive as much appreciation as my display pics on my social media handles. It was annoying when certain people spammed my wall with messages asking for my phone number and started calling me over Facebook and Instagram messenger despite forbidding them numerous times.
As a woman, it feels humiliating when people cannot go beyond your physical beauty and praise your art. Most of the time when I upload a video of my recitation, the usual comments I get from most men are “You look hot.” It is high time these people realise that women want to be appreciated genuinely for their work, passion, and efforts rather than their beauty.
My cousin wriggles in discomfort while sharing her experience of online abuse. Her senior unnecessarily asks her to put her camera on while online meetings. He gives her a video call every now with trivial works and forces her to switch on the video, stating that an audio call will not suffice his ‘needs’.
An increase in sexual violence has been witnessed during this period. “India noted a surge of porn usage and sale of condoms and sex toys, reflecting an increase in sexual activity thereby indirectly indicating an increase in chances of sexual rights violation.”
The worst sufferers of this outrage were the women with disabilities who had no other option but to silently swallow such ruthless behaviour from their partners. Adding to this injury are abusive in-laws who leave no stone unturned to torment their daughters-in-law.
My friend faced the wrath of her in-laws, and when she was unable to tackle their mental tortures she asked her husband to move with her to a different residence. She was immediately tagged as a ‘home-breaker’ and the ‘witch’ who was trying to separate her husband from his old parents, casting a spell on her man with her charms.
Surveillance and effective management of violence against women need to be an indispensable charter amidst the steps to combat the spread of the deadly virus. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, needs to be effectively implemented. The initial step while dealing with the problem of abuse against women is to acknowledge the issue which often can remain in oblivion during times of such a global crisis.
It is necessary to spread awareness among the general people regarding ways to tackle domestic violence. Helpline numbers, abundant safe shelters, information about organisations providing help to distressed women need to be widely spread. Enough number of ASHA workers and health workers must be engaged in a door to door survey to gather information if anyone in their areas is being subjected to such a menace.
Many women silently tolerate abuse, fearing opening up. They have to be assured that they are in safe hands and their complaints would save them from their perpetrators. Sweeping such incidents under the blanket should be discouraged. Neighbours and relatives of victims/survivors have a major role to play by providing emotional support and encouragement to speak up. The USA has started a hotline service where any woman facing any kind of threat can send a text message to a particular number and reach out to officials who would immediately respond. In India, the National Commission of Women has proposed and successfully implemented such a service in April.
To deal with the long-lasting and damaging consequences of gender-based violence, a holistic model needs to be adhered to. A combined effort by health professionals, media houses, and various governmental and non-governmental officials is needed to curb this menace. An effective framing of government policies needs to not only to be put in place but also executed well.
The mental health of people has taken a toss due to the immense economic loss that people have suffered, coupled with a drastic decline in social equations. To restore the emotional balance, an ample number of therapists should be available who can counsel at a minimum cost. These resources should be made easily accessible to people so that they can reach out without any hassle. Only collective efforts can help us fight this dual peril of a pandemic and gender-based violence.