There has been a massive increase in gender-based violence across the globe during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The organisations that work on gender issues, policymakers and other stakeholders have been raising their concerns. To discuss this critical issue and suggest solutions the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) in association with GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation organised a Web Policy talk on 15 June, 2020.
Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI, initiated the discussion and introduced the topic by highlighting that violence against women continued to be one of the most prevalent and least recognised human right violations.
Prof Balwant Singh Mehta, Fellow, Institute for Human Development (IHD), presented some critical facts on violence against women. One in every three women in the world experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. One in every four women faced domestic violence in our country. One in every three married women between 15 and 49 experienced physical or sexual violence.
The most surprising part is that eight out of 10 such women reported their current husbands as the main perpetrators, which is justified with half of the women in certain circumstances with excuses like “she was neglecting the house or the children”, or “going out of the house without permission”.
He mentioned that the reports suggest a sharp rise in cases of VAW after the novel coronavirus outbreak and lockdown in Germany, Canada, Spain, United Kingdom, China, France, the United States of America and many other countries.
Similarly, as per the National Commission for Women (NCW), there is also a significant increase in gender-based violence in India; particularly, domestic violence reported cases had gone up to 914 in May from 271 in January 2020. There are many unreported cases due to various reasons and it needs urgent attention from the government and other stakeholders.
Ms Anshula Mehta, Research Assistant, IMPRI, told the story of Sara’s mental and physical harassment. Ms Ritika Gupta, Research Assistant, IMPRI, shared a story of a woman living in Kanpur and her suffering in this pandemic.
Prof Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, Gender Impact Studies Centre, IMPRI; 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. In comparison, men spend only 29 min/day in urban and 32 min/day in care work.
She mentioned two of the worst outcomes of the current pandemic: rise in income inequality and increased domestic violence against women. Kelkar noted that the lockdown had put a lot of pressure on women, particularly that their household and care work burden had increased. She mentioned women health workers, Asha’s, who are in the cycle of delayed payments, rising expenses, and debt, facing many difficulties.
Dr Manorama Bakshi, Senior Adviser, Tata Trusts, mentioned some recent studies and highlighted that a 75% increase in gender-based violence impacted 2–3% of our country’s GDP. She also said that the girl child would be the most affected post-pandemic with a rise in child labour and child marriages due to poverty.
She also commented on patriarchy in our society and other social norms that hinder gender equality. Bakshi suggests that the government’s positive actions will decide the situation of gender inequality in post-pandemic.
Ms Suhela Khan, Country Programme Coordinator, WeEmpower Asia, UN Women, said that the pandemic had not only resulted in a rise in domestic violence but also a spike in 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 is converting into violence against women at home.
She also said that work from home had increased during the pandemic, providing a new way to work for women to maintain a work-life balance.
Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International, pointed out the police force’s inactiveness towards helping women who are in trouble and asked for active police action against perpetrators. Dr Singh talked about the patriarchal overload of society that needs to be abolished by empowering women. He also raised a question about men who justify violence against women in our society. Such notions need to be changed by educating boys in schools.
Dr Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI, gave a vote of thanks to all panellists and attendees of the discussion and pointed out some important points regarding gender equality in society. He suggested that families and teachers teach their wards, especially boys, about the importance of gender equality in society and the removal of evil societal norms such as patriarchy, male domination and violence against women.
Without removing such social evils, we cannot think about achieving the SDG goals of gender-equal society by 2030.
By Dr Simi Mehta and Anshula Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)