The COVID19 pandemic lockdown has led to a rise in instances of gender based violence, in India and around the world, as it becomes harder for women to seek support, says Angelin Jenifer.
As the world is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, women are fighting another pandemic within the four walls of their homes; the place where they’re supposed to feel most safe. Throughout the world, if the domestic violence cases rise by 20%, researchers expect 15 million additional cases for every three months of lockdown extension.
In India, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has raised an urgent alert about the increasing number of domestic violence cases since the national lockdown began. The cases of domestic violence have doubled during lockdown.
I work with women in slum communities and have seen this rise. One of the changemakers in my team spoke with a woman named Nisha* who has recently experienced violence in her home. Nisha’s husband worked as a daily wage labourer, and the COVID lockdown left him jobless for a month. Nisha reported that the paucity of income affected his behaviour at home. When the government relaxed the lockdown restrictions he asked his wife for money to buy alcohol, when she didn’t have any to give, he beat her harshly and left home. He managed to somehow get 1000 rupees from his boss and spent it on alcohol. In a drunken state he returned to the home and assaulted Nisha again before disappearing. Nisha was left with her children and had to file a missing persons report with the police. After two days, it was found that her husband had reached his native village by foot.
This is just one example of what women are facing. There are still so many Nisha(s) whose stories we are never going to get to know.
Even in normal times the scale of abuses is hidden from view. I work with a community in the slum settlements in Okhla and collected data on the subject. Out of 203 respondents 24% of women said they had experienced Gender Based Violence. 35% did not want to answer the question and 40% said they had not. However, in community meetings many women reported that domestic violence affected them or other women in the community. They fear reporting because the men are often the sole breadwinners of the family or because they risk being kicked out of their homes by their in-laws. As the majority of women are uneducated and are not aware of their rights, they accept it as their fate and remain quiet.
Women are deprived of mobile phones and in lockdown they have even less access to help. And financial considerations are even more pressing. As the lockdown does not permit them to step out, many are forced to bear the brunt. Hence, domestic violence is being considered as a “shadow pandemic” which is thriving in a condition created to cure a pandemic.
As incidents from my community suggest, the condition of women in slums is desperate. Those of us with the resources and the ability to raise our voices must not hesitate to do so. Men too often feel entitled to beat women, and take out their frustrations upon them. The lack of knowledge, and access to support systems is forcing women to tolerate it.
In times like these, reaching out to women in slums and small communities is difficult. While fighting one virus let’s not let another virus breed silently within the four walls.
Angelin Jenifer, a Public Policy student working as a Youth Accountability Advocate with Restless Development, New Delhi. Her focus area is Gender Based Violence, she works in raising awareness in a slum community.