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Which Was The Bigger Pandemic; COVID-19 Or Domestic Violence?

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The dawn of marriage brings nightmares in the lives of few women. The terror they face is seldom acknowledged and eradicated. Often it is not noticed or simply regressed under the notions of patriarchal society.

Domestic violence, a term used to refer to harassment, abuse and sexual exploitation of a woman in the institution of marriage, is sometimes labelled as “itna toh chalta hai” in Indian societies. But how long will it go on? And the more staggering question is- has this condition improved or has worsened in the months that passed?

We are no more unaware that COVID-19 has brought an array of other complex issues. Mental health degraded, the economy underwent a great loss, jobs shattered, and there was a surge in sexual harassment and intimate partner violence.

Throughout the lockdown period, NCW and various NGOs reported an unprecedented increase in domestic violence against women, surprisingly not only in India but in the whole world. What was the underlying cause for it? Undoubtedly isolation from the rest of the world and seclusion at one place, which was in most cases their own homes.

Humans around the planet were trapped inside their rooms with almost zero offline contact. This led to a poisonous moment in which most women have to suffer. Lockdown rules curbed social meetings, and moving outside the house was restricted at almost every place. This took from women their chance to raise their voice, mostly because many of them were devoid of social media and excess to the internet.

COVID-19 wards and screening rooms flooded the countries, making every hospital, clinic, hotel room and inns exclusive for the COVID patients. These measures took away the opportunity of alternate shelters for women and men.

The less fortunate, especially labour and cleaning service providers, had to leave their jobs which made them secluded within the walls of their rooms. Additionally, another reason for this tragedy were loose contacts with the natal family. Not only did lockdown create immense possibilities for an increase in this crime, but it also imposed barriers to reporting it. Medical service providers and hospitals were one such place where women could have raised their voices, but lockdown snatched even this mere ray of sunshine from their lives.

The UN stated that domestic violence was a “shadow pandemic”. One out of four women and one out of ten men were estimated to have succumbed to this crime. Already existing data shows that most of these cases go undetected. The NFHS-IV report claimed that 33% of married women between the 15 to 40 age group experienced physical, sexual and emotional spousal violence in India.

Out of these, 17% were the women who spoke, while 77% never reported it. Shockingly, only 3% of these reported cases were registered by the police, and around 65% were reported to the family members. This saw an even greater effect on the lockdown. Genuinely, the aforementioned issue existed due to problems in internet connectivity and the absence of internet in many cases.

NCW states that after 23 March 2020, when the lockdown was imposed, a 100% rise in domestic violence cases was seen within a fortnight. This made them start a WhatsApp helpline number. The NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma time and again raised the concern to reach out to every woman restricted at home with abusive partners.

On her advice, the commission created a committee to track these cases on a fast track basis. Though there was a clear rise in cases, the NCW monthly data portrayed a perplexing truth. It showed a decrease in cases with the imposition of the lockdown. In January, there were 538 complaints; in February 523, March 501 and April 377. As the lockdown started to ease, complaints further rose. In May, 552 were registered, and in June, it was 730. This data points out clear evidence of a discrepancy in reporting the cases during the lockdown.

Resulting from this was a crippled situation of every woman smothered by violence. Her tears were hardly cared for, and her state was deduced as normal. Cruelty in humanity has surpassed its limits; this added with inefficient means to convey the crime made the plight worse.

COVID-19 has sprouted the weeds of domestic violence in every state, country and continent. The hour requires not looking at it as a suspected stumbling block of another issue but rather an imperative concern. Channelising groups of people from NGOs can tackle domestic violence across the nation to survey and screen sensitive locations while also appointing a strict national-level committee to look into this matter.

Health workers should frame a questionnaire for every woman visiting hospital premises and enquire into the answers to see if cases of domestic violence are suspected or not. Every police station needs to be more careful and appoint one officer to register domestic violence cases. Sadly, these measures should have been taken before the lockdown set in. If these had been in place on time, maybe we would have been witnessed fewer cases and more smiles. The harsh reality is that almost every piece of machinery has failed to curb domestic violence, which has taken a heavy toll on many innocent lives during COVID-19.

Malala Yousafzai rightly said, “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is a sword the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of a woman.” If domestic violence had not burnt the emotions of a woman, COVID-19 might have been an easier battle for the country. I still find myself incapable of deducing if COVID-19 was more terrifying than domestic violence and leave it upon the reader to decide which was a bigger pandemic.

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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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