Domestic violence can be verbal, financial, psychological and sexual. It includes the abuser withholding financial or medical assistance. Women are most often the caregivers for those quarantined at home and already infected with the virus, which makes them more vulnerable to contracting the disease. Violence against women is a breach of fundamental human rights. Studies indicate that in India women can lose an average of at least five paid work days for each incident of intimate partner violence. In terms of health too, violence that women face affects them adversely. Though India has many laws that deal with violence against women, their implementation remains a challenge. These challenges include lack of dedicated budgets and the absence of full time government officials along with a cadre of duty bearers who know the laws and standard operating procedures. Implementation of laws becomes more difficult in a deeply patriarchal society.
Even when funds are budgeted, their utilization towards services that would help women overcome violence is very low. One such fund is the Nirbhaya Fund dedicated to Jyoti Pandey, whose brutal gang-rape and subsequent death shook the nation in 2012 and led to the allocation of INR 3100 crores (INR 31 billion) for projects that dealt with different forms of violence. A mere 30% of the funds have been utilized thus far.
Tragically, traditional forms of support are now not available to domestic violence victims. They don’t go to their parental homes for fear of infecting elderly parents. Shelter homes are crowded and so they are vulnerable to greater infection there. The police force is already overburdened with ensuring that people comply with the lockdown. Hospitals do not have the space or time to look at domestic violence cases.
Governments must include measures to address gender-based violence (GBV) and child protection in COVID-19 response and recovery plans and ensure that plans are gender and age responsive and multi-sectorial. Girl- and youth-led groups should be securely and meaningfully involved in the progress of plans, and plans should assess and monitor the risk and prevalence of violence.
(3) Effect on Education and Health
The groups that are already underprivileged, such as adolescent girls, experience the greatest risks and impacts when their education is interrupted. Governments must take steps to mitigate the effects of school closure on girls, boys and their families by ensuring education continues. In some villages in Sierra Leone, school enrolment rates for teenage girls fell from 50% to 34% after the Ebola epidemic, with lifelong implications for their well-being and that of their communities and societies.
In Mali, Niger, and South Sudan, three countries with some of the lowest enrolment and completion rates for girls, closures have forced over four million girls out of school. Meanwhile, in Zambia, where the rate of girls dropping out from grade seven onwards is almost twice the rate of boys , the government decided to close all schools before a single case of coronavirus was reported. In the medium- to long-term, the closure of schools will have a negative impact on education outcomes for both girls and boys alike.
The outbreak of the disease increase girls’ and young women’s duties like caring for elderly and ill family members, as well as for siblings who are out of school. Girls, especially those from marginalized communities and with disabilities, may be particularly affected by the secondary impacts of the outbreak.
Schools should be reinforced to avert and control the spread of COVID-19, with attention paid to shielding students and staff from discrimination and stigma associated with infection. Governments must ensure education response plans are gender and age responsive and reflect the live realities of girls, children with disabilities and other marginalized children throughout the life cycle of education.
As the world grapples with a health crisis of unparalleled magnitude, women are facing an existential crisis. The situation is grave and needs urgent attention of the authorities before it is too late. Strategies have to be devised to protect women from being subjected to dehumanizing conditions during times of lockdown. We have been using odd-even schemes to deal with pollution. Countries such as Peru and Panama have systematically devised a lockdown in which men and women are allowed to leave home on alternate days. This step will contain the spread of Covid-19 by reducing the number of people on the streets on any given day and also reduce the incidences of domestic violence against women. We need to emulate them. Unconditional cash transfers to women bank account holders are expected to improve the financial and intra-household status of female beneficiaries, as well as their psychosocial well-being. Governments should, therefore, target beneficiaries under as many schemes as possible to ensure maximum reach. The state has to ensure women their safety and provide them shelter as well as relief during these tumultuous times. This is not an issue that can be postponed until normalcy returns.
(Author is Advocate on Record practising in the Supreme Court of India, and has been writing on various legal issues in reputed journals and legal magazines and newspapers. Confidence building and leadership development of women is close to her heart and she is a firm believer of the fact that holistic development happens women coach women and take each other forward. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org)