Conflict Alerts # 61, 8 April 2020
In the news
The "Stay Home, Stay Safe" precautionary measure by the countries to fight the spread of the Coronavirus is proving dreary for the women worldwide as the home becomes the most unsafe place for them. The United Nations called on 5 April for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. "I urge all governments to put women's safety first as they respond to the pandemic," Secretary-General António Guterres wrote on Twitter.
A week before this urgent action the UN Secretary-General made a similar appeal that the pandemic is necessitated to end violence worldwide, but the violence at home has continued to rise due to an intensification of quarantine measures to contain the pandemic. The cases of domestic violence have increased in each country within the first week of lockdown from China, India, Italy, France, and Spain to South Africa.
Issues at large
In China, a Beijing-based NGO had seen a surge in calls to its helpline since early February, when the government locked down the Hubei Province which is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18 per cent more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than it had received in the first week of March. On 3 April, the French Police reported a nationwide spike of about 30 per cent in domestic violence. In South Africa, there were nearly 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of a lockdown. In Malaysia, the government launched a controversial campaign advising women not to nag their husbands and to refrain from being "sarcastic" while doing household chores. The campaign was later retracted. In Turkey, the local NGOs have recorded that the killing of women has risen sharply since a stay-at-home order was issued on 11 March. According to National Commission for Woman, the total complaints from women in India rose from 116 in the first week of March (March 2- 8), to 257 in the final week of March (March 23-April 1) when the lockdown intensified.
The experts have said the common tools of abuse include isolation from friends, family, and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behaviour; and restrictions on access to such necessities as food, clothing and sanitary facilities. The home isolation, however vital it is to fight the pandemic, is giving more power to the abuser.
First, the increase in cases has brought to the fore the failure of the governments to anticipate and prepare for such cases. Besides, like many courts, NGO shelters remain closed, and the priority of the Police has shifted to identifying the COVID-19 patients, thereby closing any avenues of justice for the victims of domestic violence. Any form of early intervention remains unlikely as the instruments of response find it difficult to collate cases with reduced funds and work strength.
Second, one needs to understand the cumulative factors that are leading to domestic violence. The lockdown from partial to complete has thrown the economy and the avenues for livelihood at risk for many. With the fears of unemployment increasing, the outlet has been a horrific increase in torture and physical abuse at home.