With the sudden hit of the global pandemic due to COVID-19 crisis, followed by a complete lockdown, the life of the common people, especially the poorer lot, like the daily wage earners, labours, temporary employees, people running small businesses, etc., has suffered a bad hit.
Losing livelihood overnight forced these families in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty. As a result of this financial, as well as social turmoil, the condition of particularly the women in the house, has wreaked havoc. We, the community leaders of Utthan, tried to speak with the women regarding how the pandemic has affected their lives and the following were highlighted:
Most of the accounts point out one evident issue ― that the women in the family, be it the mother, wife, or sisters, they have become the venting ground of the repercussions of economic frustration, which ended up in physical violence. They were beaten up, hither and thither over their demands of basic needs.
Married women were often forced to go and stay with their parents when the husbands had no income; on refusing, they were met with physical and mental torture.
On the other hand, the parents often married off their minor daughters to cut down the family expenses. Either way, the females in the families became the disposable factor during adverse times. The assault wasn’t always limited to physical attacks but also extended to mental torture, contributing to one additional round of pain, on top of the existing crises.
The issue of violence against women getting intensified during a pandemic can be analysed by two factors. The first being lack of income, engagement, and social security for the men; and the second being the outlook towards women in general.
Being the earning member gave these men a sense a superiority, which was challenged when their role of the provider suffered a halt due of loss of income; leading to frustrations that got translated into physical and mental violence, more often than not.
Alongside, when the women who earned lost their jobs, they were thrashed for not being able to provide.
In both situations, it is the women who were blamed.
This gives us a clear picture that women are not comprehended as human beings, but as service providers, who’d keep doing their job without complaining or demanding.
The image of the ideal women always giving, and never demanding has led to ample toxicity. The lack of gender sensitization is the root cause of violence against women during the pandemic.
Women were subjected to various forms of violence, starting from physical, to mental, to social. Since the agency of the women is not taken into consideration, marital rape has increased by leaps and bounds. Being beaten up by frustrated or intoxicated husband has been common. Often the in-laws too participated in this fiasco. The mental violence included shaming, inducing trauma, threatening, withholding food, and so on.
On several occasions, the husbands had cut communications with the women completely after sending them back to their maternal house.
Some men took the refuge of gambling and intoxication to deal with their frustrations, and when the women in the family demanded the bare minimum, like basic ration, to provide food to the children, they got beaten up instead.
One of our colleagues has reported a case of suicide, where the woman killed herself because of uncouth torture by her husband and in-laws, leaving behind her one-year-old son. Another leader notifies of a harrowing incident of an 8-year-old being raped multiple times over the allurement of food.
The perpetrator knew that her parents couldn’t provide and mid-day meals were not available as the schools were closed, and he took advantage of the situation.
We tried to reach out to the survivors of violence in the proximity of our localities, so did some other organizations. However, due to lack of support from the administration, police, and judiciary, any fruitful measure couldn’t be taken to a stop on the ongoing violence.
Since the issue of the women being at the receiving end of intensified violence during a pandemic is influenced by two factors: the major financial crisis and lack of gender sensitisation, the solution needs to be twofold too. The government should have provided essentials subsistence ― food. It absolutely isn’t fair to expect politically correct behaviour from the under-privileged people, when they are hungry, with no affirmation of how long the struggle is going to be.
Simultaneously there should have been sensitization regarding the wellbeing of the women at home. We have agreed that if the administration could have conducted some awareness, surveys and follow-ups regarding the domestic situation of the women regularly, the catastrophe could have been lessened.
To our surprise, some of our colleagues have reported several social initiatives by their community, asking the women to behave patiently under pandemic, and not push their husbands for the basic needs, or else they’ll be sent to the maternal house for a period of three months. This kind of canvassing is irresponsible and it justifies violence on women. Gender justice has always been somewhat secondary for the police as well as the judiciary, and the same happened during the pandemic.
While the police were busy in thrashing and mongering fear amongst the poor people, who had no option but to go out during the lockdown to earn, they thoroughly ignored the complaints of gender violence, domestic violence. To fight the situation, a proper sensitization and screening program could be introduced at the soonest.
We also think that as a long term process, giving the women equal importance in the family could be introduced by making the mother’s name mandatory in the official documents. The government should provide essentials as a means of family support. The police should be sensitive to violence against women. Special teams should be employed to keep a tab on violence. The judiciary too should take up the responsibility to resolve the gender violation cases sooner, and with proper investigation.
If the people in power positions could be a little more responsible to plan out the whole thing and execute, instead of overlooking the problem, it would be better experienced for all, especially for the ones living at the receiving end of violence.
Discussed and Developed by: Utthan