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NOT Just A ‘Family Matter’: Why Domestic Violence Is A Crisis We Can No Longer Ignore

When the lockdown was announced, all I complained about was how hard studying from home was. Never did I think of the women who are stuck with their abusers. That is the case for so many women across the world since the current pandemic shut down everything and confined us to our homes for months on end.

Historically, India has not done too well on the subject of gender-based violence. What else can be expected from a country which has been recognized as the world’s most dangerous country for women? But that is nowhere near the inequalities which many women face around the world. Approximately one in three women around the world experience physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. Nearly four in every ten female homicides are committed by an intimate partner, often at home.

This pandemic may have increased domestic violence, but for many who have worked on the issue, it has only confirmed what we already knew: for most of the female population, the home was never a safe place.

domestic violence
Representational image.

Today, as the numbers rise, we all need to acknowledge that this is a crisis we can no longer ignore.

We can no longer tolerate patriarchal norms and governing bodies that overlook domestic violence and dismiss it as a “family matter.”

No longer can we accept that so many women live in fear in their own homes. This should very well be our wake-up call. We owe this to the many who succumb to the repression and violence they face in their own homes, even after this pandemic is a thing of the past.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the statistics for violence against women has risen significantly and rapidly. This is what is called the ‘Shadow Pandemic’ within the larger pandemic of COVID-19. This pandemic has taken away all the services dedicated to helping domestic violence victims like health services and essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines are already at capacity.

Reasons For Increase In Violence During COVID-19

The increase in violence is not just because of physical confinement but because of so many other factors which the pandemic has caused. The world is facing massive economic dislocation, looming unemployment, frequently the threat of hunger and poverty also comes along. There is no disagreeing that both men and women are impacted by this global crisis, but it has been noticed that violence against women typically increases during periods of high unemployment.

While there are several laws protecting women like the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005, there are several problems with the implementation of it. The Act prohibits a wide range of abuse against women such as physical, emotional, sexual and economical which are all defined in detail under the Act. Additionally, the scope of the Act also covers women who are in a live-in relationship and not married.

While all these are great legal initiatives against domestic violence, the question of implementation remains. If one glances at these laws in action, you will see several shortcomings like the refusal of the police to file a case in some cases and the delays in the criminal justice system. So, it is a long journey from the point when women decide they want to stop living in a repressive environment till the point they get appropriate legal resolution. First of all, they have to go through the pain of narrating one’s story again and again and defending it too. All this while they are burdened by the fact that society wants a victim to appear powerless and timid.

Jadavpur University students protesting against domestic violence

Potential Action Plan For Curbing Domestic Violence

This brings us to the fact that it is quintessential to address the root causes of violence – women’s powerlessness. Society has normalized and justified domestic violence for so long that women themselves are unable to speak up against it. We are all now looking at the next big step which is awareness.

Women need to be made aware of what counts as violence and what is not acceptable behaviour, maybe this will push more women to recognize it and report it to their family and friends if not immediately to the police or legal authorities.

We also need to create supportive social circles where women feel safe enough to share their stories of abuse. Right now, the conversation on social media and in general has made violence a very light subject which of course makes the victims feel like what they are facing is normal.

In current times, both social support systems and legal discourse are hard to get. A resolution which can prove to be appropriate is recognition by the administration and law enforcement agencies of the magnitude of the problem. The priority should be reaching out to women in distress which evidently needs to be categorized as an essential service. There is a need to create safe spaces where women can be taken to and where they can live in the absence of a safe environment at home.

Since several hotels are not opening up right now because of the pandemic, their rooms can be converted into safe spaces and the women can be given some sort of security. Whereas in rural areas, the first point of contact for the victims can be the frontline health workers along with women’s self-help groups and panchayats.

As the government is trying to flatten the COVID-19 curve, we also need to pitch in and make sure that the shadow pandemic curve does not rise more than it is already. This should not be a competition between the two curves, but we do need to relocate resources back to this crisis of domestic violence. This pandemic has shown us not to take things for granted, well the same goes for women’s lives. These lives are too precious to suffer so much.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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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