The Coronavirus or Covid-19 has gripped the world with over one million cases and 50 thousand deaths in over 190 countries across the globe. The lack of any vaccination or medications to combat the spread of the virus has prompted many countries to implement a complete or partial lockdown. These lockdowns have forced over a third of the world’s population to reside in their homes. The impacts of the lockdowns are vast, but a large section of the population across the world are being hit the hardest- Women.
The very conditions that are vital to battle the pandemic – social distancing, insolation, lockdowns and restrictions on movement are all the conditions that are feeding hands of abusers at homes. The personal safety of women are at a greater risk now more than ever. The lockdowns have forced a scenario wherein women are forced to be stuck in their homes with their abusers. Women and children who are living with their abusers have no escape from them during quarantine.
Many counties across the globe are reporting an alarming rise in domestic distress calls. Authorities in countries like UK, Brazil, Spain, China, US, Italy, France, Australia etc, are receiving constant calls and messages to report domestic violence. Reports suggest 90 percent of cases have been directly linked to the lockdowns. In India, from 24th March to 1st April 2020 (period of complete lockdown) around 250 cases have been reported.
The prevalence of patriarchy and sexism at homes at various countries could cause a risk of manifesting into violence and abuse in times like this. The fear and anxiety related to economic vulnerability has only added to the increase in the violence at homes.
China has recently reported a surge in divorce rates due to the impact lockdowns have on family life. Millions of women are forced to live with their abusers due to the society or fear of the consequences of leaving. In China, at the Hubei province the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak reports of domestic violence have tripled during the quarantine period. In Brazil the state-run centre for women has witnessed a 20% surge in cases being reported during the first few days of the quarantine.
There have been reports that during periods of calamity or crisis there is always an increase in the cases of violence against women. There is psychological stress, anxiety, frustration mad uncertainty in people’s mind due to the fear of economic fallouts, pay cuts and hardships in acquiring basic necessities.
Family members who are employed in the informal sector of work force face harder economic crisis, this causes a situation that is harmful and dangerous for women in the family. Many women escape their abusers by using their jobs and work as a form of distraction and felicitates some time away from the abuse but with the lockdowns they are 24/7 locked in confined spaces with their abusers.
The absence of ways to purchase alcohol and drugs for addicts have worsen the situation for women due to the frustration related to withdrawal. The state of Kerala has announced that they would permitting sale of alcohol to alcoholics who are in need of it.
Lack of freedom of communicate
There is a huge cause for concern in certain countries where the number of calls have been decreased but there has been an increase in messages to helpline numbers. The major reason is attributed to the fact that many cannot make calls with the fear or being overheard by their abusers due to be confined to their homes. Women are in need of privacy to make the call for help. When the entire family is locked at their homes it is not possible for them to seek help. In countries like India where reaching out for help is rare, these conditions have further worsen the situation. The accessibility of services to provide help and the ability to request for help is a challenge. Many countries are reflecting on making policy or legal changes to reflect on the risks of quarantine of the lives of women and children.
Another major challenge for the governments is the relocation of the women who call for help during the quarantine period. Governments are locating women in safe houses and have called for hotels and other alternative methods to help these women.
Solutions formulated by Governments
Countries like Spain and France have urged women to head to drugstores to communicate their need for help from their abusers. They are instructed to use code words to pharmacists behind the counter to seek help in case they are unable to communicate openly. In UK and Italy, women rights activist have advocated that in situations of domestic violence the abuser must leave the family homes and not the victim. In Uttar Pradesh the police had put out circulars in newspapers stating – “suppress corona, not your voice” to urge victims to come forward and report any violence they are facing. Various victim help centres have provided helplines for women to reach out and seek help. Governments have set up 24/7 helpline numbers, social media platforms messaging facilities etc to seek help.
Governments around the world are criticized to have a very small proportion of women law makers. It becomes imperative for governments to analyse the problems faced by women and draw effective solutions.
While the whole world is waging the war against the covid-19 virus, Some Women and children are not safe in their own homes, they are battling an enemy on two fronts.Living in abusive families, economic fallouts and limited services available, have forced the already quite victims into silence.
Anakha Angeline Anilesh
3rd year BA. LLb at University Law College, Bangalore University