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The year 2020 was expected to be an opportunity to assess the past twenty years of progress on the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda. Instead, it has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dominated the international community’s attention and put recent gains for WPS at risk.

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IPRI # 106, 6 October 2020

GENDER AND PEACEBUILDING DURING A PANDEMIC
For India’s women, home has been the most violent place

  Tamanna Khosla

 

“Put women and girls at the center of the efforts to recover from COVID-19”

-UN Secretary-General

During the lockdown imposed to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, home is recognized as the safest place to be. However, not all homes are safe and not all have the luxury to comply with the rules to social distance in a small room occupied by many.

I.

Locked in Home, Locked with Violence: Women in Pandemic

Poverty has pushed many in India to the margins and as the COVID-19 ravaged the country, it has exposed the precarious lives and invisible faces of hunger, and predominate among those are that faced by women and children. It is the women living in slums who suffer the worst in trying to survive amid little resources or even the space to be socially distant. Migrant workers in the cities, both men and women, in the absence of work are now being compelled to starve and subject to rather brutal actions by police to control the wave of reverse migration.

As far as the upper or middle-class women are concerned, being restricted to the quarters of the home is probably not a new experience for many within the patriarchal societies. The steep rise of around 94 per cent of violence against women has been reported from 23 March to 16 April as noted by the National Commission of Women. Abusers have taken advantage of isolation measures to inflict violence on women. Hence, the very technique that is being used to protect people from the virus is having an adverse impact on women and children in violent homes as the abuser is getting more opportunities to unleash violence.  

Even otherwise, home is a contested site for unequal gender relations where both men and women are placed unequally. The gendered social norms burden women with the sole responsibility to care and during the lockdown women have been caught in these traditional gender roles and engaged in unpaid domestic work. Added to it, domestic violence is not considered a serious crime in India. While parental homes have helped women with refuge in some cases, but with the lockdown, it is not easy to access the same help. In the isolation during the lockdown, when the perpetrators know that women have no other support available and cannot escape easily, the abuse on women has bordered on being ferocious.

Lack of will and administrative apathy deteriorated the issue

Patriarchy is dehumanizing men and women and the role of state has also been limited. Though awareness with regard to domestic abuse is being raised in India, but no significant steps have been taken by the government to deal with the pertinent issue. 

In India, several NGOs have petitioned to the courts against the violence on women. Some courts have issued directions to the state to provide protection to women and children. In UP, the state government has inaugurated a special helpline for victims of domestic abuse under the title `Suppress Corona not your voice’. The police have assured that once a woman lodge a complaint, a woman officer will attend to it. The chairperson of NCW claimed that ASHA and Anganwadi and other frontline health workers need to report the cases of any kind of abuse.

However, in contradiction to these recommendations, no advisory is being issued at the national level as yet by the state to declare domestic violence as an emergency or to announce domestic violence services or health services as essential during the lockdown. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is silent on the issue of domestic violence and has not taken any action to provide medical or other support to women migrant workers delivering babies on roads. Yet, the state decided to prioritize profit over eliminating violence against women. The Supreme Court refused to stay the sale of liquor. Thus, the need is for the state to interfere and this is not a private issue but is a public concern.


II.

Making Women Count as Peacebuilders

The year 2020 was expected to be an opportunity to assess the past twenty years of progress on the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda. Instead, it has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dominated the international community’s attention and put recent gains for WPS at risk. One of the areas, most at risk is the participation of women in peacebuilding efforts and peace processes, which is already a part of the WPS agenda where progress has been limited.

Five key factors could help the UN and its member states keep the focus on women peacebuilders during the pandemic:

State leadership on WPS in multilateral fora

In the face of the pandemic, it is critical for UN member states to defend recent gains made in implementing the WPS agenda in multilateral fora. Stronger, more cohesive leadership is especially needed in the UN Security Council, which has had a slow, uncoordinated response to the pandemic. It has shown that women leaders have performed better in dealing with the pandemic than their male counterparts and a crisis do need more women leaders.

Women’s participation in formal peace processes

The pandemic has made it even more difficult for many women peacebuilders to participate in formal peace processes in places like Afghanistan and Yemen. However, the normalization of virtual convening’s could be an opportunity to bring more women to the table, provided they are brought in from the beginning and given access to the required technology.

Protection and security of women peacebuilders

The pandemic has exacerbated the threats faced by women peacebuilders in many places. The UN and member states have a role to play in providing these peacebuilders both physical protection and international legitimacy and recognition.

Financing for women peacebuilders

Funding was already one of the biggest challenges confronting women peacebuilders, and the pandemic has made funding all the harder to come by. Women peacebuilders play an essential role in the pandemic response and recovery—something donors should recognize when deciding how to allocate funding.

Effective and sustained data collection approach

Collecting sex-disjointed data is essential to ensure that the COVID-19 response reflects an understanding of how the pandemic affects women. At the same time, the pandemic has made data collection more difficult. This calls for a coordinated, risk-sensitive approach to data collection, especially when it comes to sexual and gender-based violence.


Dr Tamanna Khosla is an independent scholar working on socio-political issues in South Asia. 

The above commentary is a part of the IPRI special series on ‘WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325’. This an attempt by NIAS to look at the various challenges faced by women peacebuilders during the COVID-19 pandemic and are the earliest efforts to record the limitations to women empowerment in the peace processes in South Asia. 

 

Also from the series...

In Afghanistan, women peacebuilders need more than a seat at the table

Fatema Ghafoori

In India, pandemic relegates women peacebuilders to the margins

Pushpika Sapna Bara

In India, the glass is half full for the women

Jenice Jean Goveas 

In Nepal, it is a struggle for the women out of the patriarchal shadows

Kabi Adhikari

In Bangladesh, laws need to catch up with reality

Mehjabin Ferdous

In Afghanistan, there is no going back for the women

Fatemah Ghafori

 

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