Several countries have reported an increase in domestic violence during their Covid-19 lockdowns. Women and children have been the victim of domestic violence for years. The Covid-19 lockdown has only made things worse.
According to the World Health Organization, with the onset of the pandemic, violence against women has been steadily rising in China, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Similarly, the number of victims of domestic violence has increased dramatically in India, Pakistan, Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, and Australia. In Jingzhou city of China, the number of reported domestic violence cases tripled in February 2020 compared to February 2019, with among 90 percent cases related to the lockdown.
In Cyprus and Singapore, the number of people calling the helpline for women victims of violence has increased by 30 percent and 33 percent, respectively. In Europe, France has one of the highest rates of domestic violence. According to its interior ministry, the cases of domestic violence across the country during the lockdown jumped by 30 percent, with a 36 percent increase in Paris. In Australia, Google has registered a significant spike in searches related to domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic.
Based on official figures, annually, around 219,000 women, from teens to 75-year-olds, are abused physically or sexually by partners, formal partners or abusers, among which only 20 percent cases are reported. One woman is killed every three days.
In Nepal, domestic violence has been a problem for many years. A recent survey showed that half the women have experienced some form of it. Rights activists have reported an increase in cases of violence during the lockdown, as women and children have become insecure around the house. With an increase in women’s workload during the lockdown, their vulnerability to gender-based violence has also increased. According to the WOREC, 176 reported domestic violence cases were recorded in 18 districts by May 9, among which 26 were rape cases.
Also, reportedly, 114 people have committed suicide in Sudhurpaschim Province in the past two months, compared to 475 suicide cases in the whole of the last fiscal year. Nepal Police say they have taken special precautions against crimes against women and children during the lockdown. As it is difficult to reach police office to file a complaint during a lockdown, the police have urged the public to use online platforms such as ‘Nepal Police Mobile App’ to lodge a complaint.
Some factors that have contributed to an increase in domestic violence during the lockdown are quarantine anxiety, economic insecurity, and weakened victim support networks.
At a time when women had slowly started becoming independent and entering a male-dominated workforce, the Covid-19 scare could take away these new opportunities and force them back into their homes.
Globally, the pandemic starkly highlights gender inequality in all its forms. OECD figures show that globally, women comprise 70 percent healthcare workforce. As women do a large part of unpaid care work, the upcoming economic crisis will hit them much harder. Hence it is important to help them strengthen their physical and mental health as well as their economic independence, beyond the Covid-19 crisis.
Different countries have come up with different ways to tackle domestic violence during the lockdown. Italy has launched a mobile app that allows people to ask for help without having to make a call. The French government has launched new hotlines and a website. Western Australia has created a “Covid-19 Family and Domestic Violence Taskforce” to work with the police force.
Robyn Rihanna Fenty privately donated $2.1 million to the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles to assist victims of domestic violence during the lockdowns. Clara Lionel Foundation and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey jointly matched the donations. Many other people and organizations have joined hands to fight domestic violence around the globe in these difficult times.
In Nepal, the civil society and women’s rights advocates should take up the cause. They can then goad the government into taking steps that reduce violence against women and provide justice and protection to victims in this time of crisis.
The Ministry of Women and Children, the Women’s Commission, and the National Human Rights Commission can play an effective role in this regard. They can persuade the state to include resources to prevent violence against women in the national plan against the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, it is important to recognize such anti-violence services as essential.
In addition, to avoid having to endure repeated violence with the perpetrator, the victims should be provided safe accommodation as well as a separate quarantine when necessary. It is the state’s duty to prevent violence against women and children in this time of pandemic and to fulfill their basic needs.
We have 24/7 helplines, the toll-free number 1145, plus some online support networks, but more support is needed, especially outside Kathmandu. Organizations like RUWON (Rural Women’s Network Nepal) need more support. When a case of domestic violence is reported in a neighborhood, the victims should have immediate access to counselors and helplines. Although Covid-19 may have limited our movement, it does not have to limit vital human interactions.