The impact of domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse on woman and young girls have been devastating for years. With the ongoing lockdown measures following the Covid-19 pandemic, complications have increased for the victims and also for organizations that provide support. The article raises awareness on this growing shadow pandemic.
In the postmodern world torn by war and humanitarian crisis, we are also ravaged by a widespread culture of gender-based bullying and discrimination. It is such a shame that in our world where unparalleled depravity and hypocrisy of patriarchy reigns supreme, the sub-human behaviour of ‘humans’ breaks open in direst manifestations every day.
However, driven by a conservative social ethos which is at the core of our upbringing, such tormenting narratives of abuse are mostly shrouded in a culture of silence. Silence that teaches us to endure predatory threats and pain because the words ‘stigma’ and ‘fear’ overpower our conscience infinitely. But for how long would we throttle the screams of the abused? For how long do we continue to brush it all under the carpet because speaking up against such menaces compel us to come out of our plush comfort zones?
Gender-based violence and Domestic violence facts:
Did you know that gender-based violence, which consists of concerted, manipulated violence and abuse against women and young girls, is the most dangerous pandemic of our times, with an estimated one in three women experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse in her lifetime?
Did you know that such ghastly deeds of violence (not excluding domestic violence and intimate partner violence) is a worldwide phenomenon in terms of its overall statistics analyzed by UNFPA? One of United Nation’s leading agencies working proactively for the cause of gender equality and women’s empowerment, UNFPA would give you some startling facts which is bound to scare the living daylights out of you.
- 1 million pregnant women worldwide face life-threatening complications every month, instigated by violence.
- Child marriage, a growing menace in an apparently progressive world, could affect an estimated 70 million over the next 5 years (approximately one in four girls in the developing world is married before age 18.)
- Female genital mutilation (FGM) harms 3 million young girls annually.
- Victims of violence are prone to forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, HIV, and even death.
What faith can we have in a world ravaged with growing female foeticides, abuse on the differently abled, heinous crimes perpetrated by criminals within families? What faith can we have in a world where leaders speak big of an equalitarian society, but oppression and unbelievably brutal acts of rape, murder, maiming of the face and body of Dalit women by upper caste men has been a daily reality? What is the cumulative consciousness of the world doing to fight this menace?
Domestic Violence and Extreme Forms of Abuse during the Quarantine
In the current socio-political context, the world is fighting tooth and nails with the pandemic of Coronavirus which has been a great leveler, wiping the discrimination between the poor and rich, the young and old, the social influencers and the laymen. As the global lockdown measures imposed this year brings life to almost a standstill, should we forget about another deadly pandemic of humanity which has reportedly grown in leaps and bounds, as an inevitable aftermath? Ironically, the menace of gender-based violence, rape, physical torture, like COVID-19, knows no social, economic or national boundaries!
Experts unanimously contend that even under normal circumstances, violence against women and young girls is a spine-chilling everyday reality. But what happens when nationwide acts of Quarantine serve to escalate abuse, rape and violence, along with serious mental health concerns? In Ukraine, Russia, the number of calls to the National Hotline on Combatting Domestic Violence increased by almost 26 per cent in the first two weeks of quarantine. A startling fact, which we might compare with India, another ‘danger zone’ for gender violence.
Very recently, the National Commission of Women in Hyderabad, India officially declared that an increasing number of abuse and domestic violence are complained, with women bearing the brunt of this upheaval. “Staying with the perpetrator in the same house during the lockdown period makes it even more difficult for the victims”, says Tripurana Venkatratnam, advisor, NCW. How would women in the fringes or in remote areas who do not have access to phones, internet or hotline numbers reach out for help under such dire circumstances?
In the war zones of Syria and in Jordan, outreach workers are struggling hard as with the new social distancing rules, women centres and safe spaces are closing doors, against the ever-growing pandemic of gender violence cases. In Jordan, recently a curfew had been imposed and there was no place to hide for women and young girls, the most vulnerable victims of gender-based violence. Also, the fragile settings of these zones are further impacted in the wake of COVID-19. Hundreds of females are dying each day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, while on the other hand, their vulnerability to abuse and violence escalates hugely.
It is surely an uphill battle, but there is still some ray of hope as UNPFA recently accumulates a sum of $187.5 million for the treatment and counselling services for survivors of gender-based violence. Let us hope and pray it brings positive changes for the survivors in the coming days, once the lockdown is relaxed.
The shadow pandemic is lurking in the fringes, beyond the purview of the other pandemic. In India, one of the major hubs of coercive violent acts on women and girl children, 70% of women are reportedly the victims, while 38% of Indian men have acknowledged they have physically abused their female partners. According to a recent report published by National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4) released by the Union health ministry, every third women, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms in the country. In a culture where patriarchy is prevalent with its various menacing outcomes, where women are raised in a culture of silently supporting the perpetrators of such crimes at home, it is no wonder that such statistics emerge to confirm the existence of the shadow pandemic in the country.
What are we doing to eradicate the shadow pandemic?
Lopa Banerjee is a critically acclaimed poet, author, editor, translator living in Texas, USA, but originally from Kolkata, India.