The article was originally published here.
A Statement by Students, Scholars and Professionals about the Increasing Global Domestic Violence During the Lockdown
Curated by Chandrayee Goswami, Aditi D. Zade and Shreya Urvashi
We are witnessing a very unusual time where the entire world has come to a standstill due to the novel Coronavirus. Its impact has been so widespread and fatalistic that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a pandemic. Almost all countries are currently struggling to fight COVID-19, whose antidote is yet to be discovered. In this light, what has been highly recommended by WHO, and agreed and supported by most governments is to practice physical distancing so that the chain of transmission of the virus can be broken. Thus, most countries have imposed lockdown, with the complete or partial shutdown of all activities, instructing citizens to remain indoors.
Though the perniciousness of the virus and the consequent threat that it has caused to our lives is extremely grave, to think that it is the only crisis that we are experiencing at this moment is far from true. The virus has successfully exposed deep-rooted inequalities in our societies that have either been overlooked or disguised under the garb of normalcy. One such despicable reality is domestic violence. As the lockdown began in different countries, an increasing number of cases of domestic violence started being reported across the world. Its intensity reached to the extent that the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had to urge governments of all countries to ensure the safety of women as a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19 in the wake of surging instances of domestic violence.
Domestic violence, in its simplest form, can be seen as a specimen of unequal power dynamics. Any violence within the household, be it physical, psychological, emotional or sexual, is equally damaging and inhumane. Normative gender roles, attitudes, and behaviours amongst people situated in a particular culture, give rise to dominant notions of masculinity and femininity. One of the foremost reasons for the prevalence of this distinction is the gendered division of labour across the world. Domestic violence could be seen as a consequence of both, asserting the dominant form of masculinity as well as to preserve it in the face of a susceptible threat to it.
According to the United Nations, out of 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000 – 58 percent) were killed by intimate partners or family members. This means that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. Besides, more than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner.
When policymakers reiterate that during the current pandemic, home is the safest place to be, they miss out the fact that for many women, and even children, remaining indoors, locked up with their abusive partners, is as dangerous and unsafe as it is to be outside their homes. The temporary relief which many women (across class, race and caste) used to get because of them or their abusive partners going out for work has waned off due to the pandemic. Exacerbated by stress, financial insecurity and alcoholism, the lockdown has now turned into a long nightmare for numerous women, and in many instances also for children, where they have to equally face the brutalities unleashed by perpetrators.
It is disconcerting to note that there has been a substantial rise in cases of domestic violence after countries around the world declared lockdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, the UN reports state that Lebanon and Malaysia have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year. In China, the number of calls has tripled. Similarly, according to Aljazeera, in the UK, there has been a 25% spike in the calls to UK National Domestic helpline in the first week after the lockdown, while France and Brazil witnessed a 30% and 50% rise in calls, respectively, for help during the first few days of the lockdown. Further, in the first two weeks, Spain’s helpline received 18% more calls than in the same period the previous month. In India, the National Commission for Women (NCW) received 587 cases of domestic violence from the period between 23rd March to 16th April, which is a drastic surge from 396 cases that it registered between 27th February to 22nd March, before the Indian Government imposed nationwide lockdown. Also, South Africa had nearly 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of lockdown. In China’s Hubei province, domestic violence reports to police more than tripled during the lockdown in February. Moreover, the lockdown has also caused a surge in intimate image abuse and its threat. According to a BBC report from the UK, the number of people contacting the Revenge Porn Helpline nearly doubled in the week beginning Monday 23 March and more cases were opened in the following four weeks than in any previous four-week period.
The aforementioned data clearly implies that the increase in the incidences of domestic violence in times of physical distancing is not limited to a particular country, but has emerged as a global crisis which needs equal and urgent attention from governments, civil society bodies, media and the public as the COVID-19. Though the governments of few countries like France and Spain have gradually been recognising the severity of domestic violence and have taken measures to curb it, this social effect of the lockdown has been gravely overlooked by decision-makers globally while declaring national lockdowns. It further goes on to signify that we have a long way to go when it comes to issues of gender.
The surge in domestic violence has revealed the hollowness of the promises and celebration of women’s emancipation that has been promoted widely across the world. The hyperbole around educated working women as the epitome of progressive and equal society has been totally disrupted by the pandemic as the lockdown has once again exposed that the unequal power relations which perpetuate gender discrimination and violence are still intact. The coronavirus lockdown has shown us how inadequate anti-domestic violence laws, if they exist, are. Domestic violence cases also expose the government’s inability in ensuring women’s safety and media’s relative apathy towards the issue.
In the wake of such a rising alarm of violence being committed against women as well as children, as a concerned group of citizens of the world, we appeal for increased awareness and follow-up action on the issue. We earnestly urge the governments of all countries to immediately recognise the gravity of the issue and to address it as a part of their emergency plan to tackle the situation and fight COVID-19. The United Nations should act as a watchdog and provide essential guidance to the countries. Besides, we urge all the NGOs and other voluntary organisations to be more vigilant; governments in this context should work with them and ensure the necessary legal and administrative interventions on the one hand, and offer them the requisite funding and assistance to provide help to the survivors on the other. Moreover, we request the civil societies, the media and the general public to be more informed and spread awareness about the persisting matter of domestic violence.
We hope that together, we can combat the menace of domestic violence and the impending danger from it. Just like we have been extending solidarity to fight the novel coronavirus, we need to come together to fight for this cause too.
Please fill out this form to extend your solidarity to the cause.
You can see the complete list of signatories here.
International Helplines and Services
We referred to the official websites of the various governments, national commissions and organisations, and NGOs operating in different countries to come up with a comprehensive list of helpline numbers. If you would like to add on or improve the list, please send an email to email@example.com.
Australia: National family violence counseling service – 1800 737 732
Austria: 0800222555(helpline for women), 0800246347 (helpline for men)
Bangladesh: National helpline number – 109
Belgium: Access support via 0800 30 030 in French or in Dutch on 1712
Bhutan: National Commission for Women and Children – 1098
China: All-China Women’s Federation hotline – 12338
Finland: National Helpline – 0800 05058; National emergency number 112
France: National helpline: 3919 (In an emergency, send an SMS to 114 or call 17.)
Germany: 24h Helpline – 08000116016, 116006
India: National Commission for Women Special Whatsapp number for complaints during the lockdown period – 917217735372
Central Social Welfare Board Police Helpline – (011) 23317004
NCW(Odisha) WhatsApp helpline – 8763543013
Northeast Network (Assam) – 943501782
Italy: Government helpline – 1522
Japan: New Telephone consultancy service – (0120) 279-889
Malaysia: Special Government helpline – (019)-2615999
Mongolia: National Center Against Violence – +976-96490505
Nepal: National Women Commission helpline (Khabar Garaun) – 1145
Pakistan: Regular helpline-1099, Exclusive Whatsapp number – 0333-9085709
Russia: Anna Centre helpline – 8 800 700 06 004
Singapore: AWARE helpline (Association for Women and Action Research) – 1800-777-5555
Spain: National Domestic Violence Hotline – 016, Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sri Lanka: Women’s Helpline-1938
Switzerland: 24helpline – 143
South Africa: SAPS Women’s Network – 0800150150
UK: National domestic abuse helpline – 0808 2000 247
US: Domestic violence hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)