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Gender-Based Violence In The Context Of COVID-19 Pandemic And Lockdown

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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.

women work
Indian women spend 16 billion hours a day doing unpaid care work.

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)

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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