The world, in an effort to fight against the coronavirus pandemic, has been observing social distancing while staying at home. While the lockdown has resulted in declining of the economy and impacted the mental health of many, it has also given rise to the issue of gender-based violence.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported that there has been a horrifying global surge in domestic violence cases across the world and made an appeal to the governments to pay attention to these cases and work towards preventing it. In India, the National Commission for Women has also raised the issue claiming that there has been a spike in cases of domestic violence since the enforcement of the national lockdown.
What is Domestic Violence?
In many countries, the term ‘domestic violence’ (DV) is used to refer to intimate partner violence (IPV), i.e. the violence committed by on a person by their spouse or intimate partners. However, domestic violence also encompasses child or elder abuse, or abuse by any member of a household.
Domestic Violence may include acts of:
– Physical violence, such as slapping, hitting, kicking and beating.
– Sexual violence, including forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion
– Emotional (psychological) abuse, such as insults, belittling, constant humiliation, intimidation (e.g. destroying things), threats of harm, threats to take away children.
– Controlling behaviours, including isolating a person from family and friends; monitoring their movements; and restricting access to financial resources, employment, education or medical care.
Domestic Violence in World and India
According to the World Health Organisation, one in every three women across the globe experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by any perpetrators in their lifetime. In 2018, a United Nations study suggested that, globally, of all female murders, about 82% happen in their marital homes, and are committed by an intimate partner or a family member.
In India, the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16) (NFHS-4) has suggested that 30 per cent of women in the country in the age group of 15-49 have experienced physical violence. The report has also claimed that among married women experiencing physical, sexual or emotional violence, about 83% claimed that their husbands were the main perpetrators of such forms of abuse, followed by abuse from the mothers, fathers and siblings of the husbands. The major crimes reported by women in India are cruelty by husband or relatives, assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty, kidnapping and abductions and rape.
Impact of Lockdowns on Domestic Violence in India
The lockdown, on one hand, has given a chance for people to reconnect with their families. While on the other hand, it has proved to be a nightmare for women who looked forward to their intimate partners to leave for work so that they could be spared from constant abuse.
The National Commission for Women (NCW), which receives complaints of domestic violence from across the country, has recorded more than two-fold rise in gender-based violence in the national Coronavirus lockdown period. The commission has said that it has recorded 291 complaints of domestic violence in March 2020 and is now only receiving complaints via email. However, actual reported cases may be quite low. According to the commission, with curtailed mobility and the police force occupied with ensuring that the lockdown is properly followed, women are losing out on the avenues that could have saved them from abuse, and in extreme cases, death.
Invisible Scars, an NGO working to help domestic violence victims, has also seen a spurt in complaints.
Under normal circumstances, the counselling centres are supposed to reach out to victims of the domestic violence who have registered complaints. However, amid lockdown, the NGOs and volunteer organisations, that are usually the avenues for women to report such attacks are defunct at the moment.
Standing Against Gender-Based Violence
The fight COVID-19 pandemic might take a while, which might require longer isolation periods and home quarantine. During such times, it is very important for the government to take measures in order to protect the vulnerable against their violent perpetrators. In this context, the government needs to ensure the availability of essential services such as legal help, medical aid, protection and shelters, counselling facility and so on for the victims of domestic violence.
The media also needs to work together to sensitise the public against the issue and encourage people to make use of their time at home in a productive manner.
Finally, the perpetrators of domestic violence must be brought to trial and repeated offenders must be dealt with strictly as per the provisions of law to maintain the safety of all the citizens in the country.
CSR to Address Mental Health During Lockdown
A major cause for this surge is the negative impact on the mental health of people caused due to lockdown and following effects of it such as loss of employment, low self-esteem because of social stereotypes and so on. In order to address this, Mpower, a pioneer in Indian mental healthcare has partnered with Government of Maharashtra and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to launch a toll-free helpline number – 1800-120-820050 called ‘BMC-Mpower 1on1’ that will be available to citizens 24×7.
Available free of cost for people across cities of Maharashtra, the helpline comprises experienced and trained mental health counsellors, who are clinical psychologists and psychiatrists from Mpower – The Centre, Mpower – The Foundation and Mpower – The Cell to provide much needed mental healthcare counsel and support. The service is available in Marathi, Hindi and English to address any mental health concerns faced by citizens of Maharashtra during these trying times. Govt. of Maharashtra and BMC will mobilise support by using its available infrastructure, communication channels and social media platforms to propagate the ‘BMC-Mpower 1on1’ helpline and appeal to people of Maharashtra to avail this free service.