What a parody the slogan ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ turned out to be for women! They were far from safe in their own homes. The UN Women collected data from different parts of the world to show the rising rate of intimate partner violence on women during the first wave of the pandemic. Around 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15-49 years were at the receiving end of violence during the first year of the pandemic. The National Commission of Women in Delhi recorded a surge of 47.2% cases as compared to 20.6% between Jan-March 2020.
Akshara Centre, keeping in mind Human Rights Day, December 10th and the Universal Health Day, December 12th launched a report ‘Grappling with the Shadow Pandemic: women’s groups and domestic violence in India’ to record the tremendous work done by the unsung and unrecognised Other Corona Warriors to support the survivors of the shadow pandemic during the past year.
The Report brings out the heavy prices that women paid during the pandemic period. Women in general but married women, disabled women and queer and trans persons specifically were impacted. Besides the increase in violence, emotional and verbal abuse, there was a notable increase in household work, in the school dropout rate as well as child marriage.
The Report lists some of the most creative methods of intervention as public campaigns addressing survivors and their relatives to seek help by using social media and media coverage, use of technology for online communication like WhatsApp groups, online platforms, web apps featuring resource material and helplines, building a cadre of barefoot counsellors to stay in daily touch with survivors and negotiating with the police and government officials.
Women’s groups faced with police restrictions, poor women’s sudden loss of job and salaries and the massive exodus of urban migrants, jumped in to do relief work and support domestic violence survivors. The amazing innovative methods and courage of these Other Covid Warriors supported women and probably saved many lives. Bollywood actor Rahul Bose said, “This report is disturbing, but it is also a reality check for us. Observing the steep rise in domestic violence cases, women’s rights organizations realized the need for advocacy with the government and building awareness among people and in the media.”
Bose supported Akshara Centre along with its partners to create a public awareness campaign called #Lockdown on domestic violence by joining hands with 26 renowned celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Anushka Sharma, Virat Kohli, Farhan Akhtar, Dia Mirza, Konkona Sen Sharma, Usha Uthup, Vidya Balan, Nandita Das, Rahul Bose, Sakshi Tanwar, and Madhuri Dixit.
The actor has been associated with Akshara Centre for 2 decades. He further stated that during these unprecedented times, it is our collective responsibility to stand strong against domestic violence and discrimination against women. With a proven history of women being extremely successful across fields, it is very saddening that women across the country are fighting and struggling for their basic rights.
Nandita Gandhi, Co-Director of Akshara Centre and one of the report’s writers said, “The manner in which women’s groups have found ways of bypassing restrictions and finding help for survivors is remarkable and brave as they could have been arrested. They continued their work even though Shelters, One Stop Centers, courts, and hospitals were no longer functional. The lessons that emerge have to be studied and turned into policies so that in the next crisis we do not see women suffering.”
In conclusion, the report puts forward that women are usually adversely impacted by any crisis – an earthquake or flood and now we can add – a pandemic. To prevent violence and a deterioration in the already vulnerable situation of women, the government and women’s groups will need to engage in participatory governance and public discussion. If each listens to and nudges the other into action, we have a better chance of surviving a calamity. For a long term solution, both women’s rights groups and the government have to pursue their efforts to ensure the enhancement of women’s capabilities and agency to resist violence. It has been established that women with some form of safety net are in a better position to challenge domestic violence. Safety nets can be created by supporting women in various fields.
The coronavirus has changed its earlier avatar to Omicron and we might, once again, have to go in for a version of the earlier lockdowns. We must heed the work done by women’s groups, understand some of the problems faced by women during earlier lockdowns and take steps so that history does not repeat itself.