Women’s safety during lockdown
Steps to protect victims of domestic violence must be made a part of the anti-COVID-19 agenda
- It is well-documented that during a war, a natural disaster or a pandemic, women’s bodies bear the worse brunt of the crisis. Domestic violence against women is already widespread and under-reported in India.
- Now, at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations recognises domestic violence against women as a “shadow pandemic”.
- In India, too, the National Commission for Women has reported a large increase in distress calls from victims of domestic violence since the pandemic broke out.
Home, not safe for many
- The national strategy against COVID -19 emphasises that home is the safest place to be. Ironically, for domestic violence victims, home is the most unsafe place to be quarantined as they are forced to live with their abusers.
- Domestic violence can be verbal, financial, psychological and sexual. It includes the abuser withholding financial or medical assistance.
- Women are most often the caregivers for those quarantined at home and already infected with the virus, which makes them more vulnerable to contracting the disease.
- The abusers feel an enormous loss of power and control over their own lives due to the pandemic. They vent their frustration on the women in the house.
- Mental health issues arise out of isolation as well as reactive depression, but instead of recognising these issues and seeking help, people become violent.
- The police force is already overburdened with ensuring that people comply with the lockdown. Hospitals do not have the space or time to look at domestic violence cases.
- Priority measures to help domestic violence victims, without detracting from the overall anti-COVID-19 strategy of lockdown, should be initiated by the government, and steps to protect victims of domestic violence be made a part of overall anti-COVID-19 action plans.
- Other priorities include a more responsive police force, and other government agencies who are not dismissive of domestic violence complaints.
- Social media posts mocking and patronising angry or “suffering” men in isolation who are helping in housework should be reported and acted upon.
- The electronic media can raise awareness in regional language infomercials, since domestic violence is a crime under the Indian Penal Code.
- SOS messaging to police already exists in several cities, but this should be enhanced with geolocation facilities.