A shadow pandemicWith the lockdown grabbing all attention, domestic violence against women is often overlooked.
Most of humanity is currently complying with mandatory stay-at-home orders and social distancing. But violence against women has increased globally amid the pandemic, and Nepal is no exception to this. The pandemic and the lockdown have increased economic uncertainties and anxiety for every individual, while women and children, especially girl children, who are the most vulnerable of all, are facing the worst of it. There have been instances of a rise in violence—including mental, physical and sexual—against women during this pandemic.
The National Commission for Women recorded a twofold rise in violence against women during the lockdown. The Women's Rehabilitation Centre published a report on its official site saying it had documented 235 cases of violence against women. Among them, 133 were cases of domestic violence, 34 cases of rape, 10 cases of attempted rape and 10 cases of sexual assault, two cases of murder, two cases of suicide and four cases of cyberbullying.
These are just examples, the real scenario of violence against women is much worse. The issue of domestic violence against women amidst the lockdown has received little or no attention from the state. The pandemic of violence against women remains ignored. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called it a ‘shadow pandemic’. Thus, today, millions of women are finding themselves virtually in ‘prison’ with their abusers.
Due to the home confinement, women's unpaid work has increased several-fold, leading to a mental and emotional health crisis. While men are discovering their hidden talents and skills amid all that free time, women, on the other hand, are expected to do all the domestic chores: They have to cook, clean the house, take care of the children, and take care of the other members of the family.
All these strenuous tasks aren’t even considered work by the rest of the family members. Apart from that, women earning a livelihood through their self-owned small businesses are facing immense difficulties as their shops, beauty parlours and boutiques are shuttered, resulting in their economic independence being snatched away. Employed women, on the other hand, are doubly suffering, struggling between paid office work and unpaid household work. Rigid gender norms and the patriarchal division of labour have been further intensified during this lockdown.
Throughout history, women across the world have been victims of gender discrimination. Violence against women and girls includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse. This gender-based violence evolves in part from women's subordinate status in society. Many cultures have beliefs, norms and social institutions that legitimise, and therefore, perpetuate violence against women. Domestic abuse is something that is rarely talked about. Women who are battered by their husbands or in-laws or both inside the domestic sphere keep quiet due to fear of social stigma, concern for the children's wellbeing or due to economic insecurity. Domestic violence and rigid patriarchal gender norms are an ‘everyday pandemic’ for women even without the lockdown. But with the global virus outbreak, the everyday pandemic of domestic violence has expanded. It is a war women have been fighting for centuries.
The power and authority manifested in patriarchy make men aggressive in alienating women's rights, facilities and freedom. This system takes complete control of women's bodies. Men have physically and emotionally abused women to establish control over them. This abusive nature of men existed in all civilisations, and it continues till today. Sociologist and forensic social worker Evan Stark says men dominate women by interweaving repeated physical abuse through intimidation, isolation and control. Coercive control can be devastating psychologically. Men deploy coercive control to secure privileges that involve the use of time, control over material resources, access to sex, and personal service. The acts of frightening, alienating and controlling through psychological and coercive force by men have caused difficulties for women to get basic support and privileges. This coercive control by men has intensified during this lockdown, pushing women to the margin.
Violence against women is a grave violation of women’s human rights. Violence against women can result in injuries and serious physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV and unplanned pregnancies. In extreme cases, violence against women can result in death. Violence has long-lasting effects on women and their physical and mental wellbeing for the rest of their lives. The violence that women and their children are facing during the current Covid-19 crisis cannot be ignored.
To prevent violence to a significant degree, and to support women survivors of violence, the government needs to safeguard women’s human rights, and promote physical and mental health and wellbeing for women throughout their lives. The rights and protections conferred on women by the constitution and various laws should be implemented. The media, civil society and all formal and informal organisations working for women's empowerment should raise public awareness that violence against women is wrong and unacceptable, and is punishable by law. The authorities concerned should file complaints of abuse and investigate and punish the perpetrators according to the existing laws. The state should ensure the safety of women. During this pandemic, women are finding it difficult to get a judicial remedy against violence inflicted on them. The state should ensure their protection and physical, mental and economic wellbeing.
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