Weekly Current Affairs: April week-2 - Violence against women

  • Category
    Social Issues
  • Published
    15th Apr, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the globe leaving behind a trail of destruction, most countries are implementing different versions of lockdowns to facilitate social and physical distancing.

Context

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the globe leaving behind a trail of destruction, most countries are implementing different versions of lockdowns to facilitate social and physical distancing. The basic assumption underlying almost all these policy decisions during a crisis like this is that the effect of the pandemic is gender neutral.

Background:

  • As more and more countries have entered lockdown, globally there is an alarming upshot in domestic violence related distress calls to support helplines and response shelters.
  • Domestic violence has serious economic, social and health consequences – not only for women and children, but also for the wider family. It is an acute problem in India.
  • The majority of Indian women who experience domestic violence do not share it with anybody or seek help.
  • Among those who do, a “pyramid of reporting” of domestic violence exists: Informal sources (natal family followed by friends) are favoured sources of support and very few women report violence via institutional routes (nongovernmental organisations and police).

Analysis

Tale of domestic violence:

  • Domestic violence is not physical violence alone. Domestic violence is any behavior the purpose of which is to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, girl/boyfriend or intimate family member.
  • Abuse is a learned behavior; it is not caused by anger, mental problems, drugs or alcohol, or other common excuses.
  • Type of domestic violence include:
    • Stalking
    • Common Stalking Behaviors
    • Stalking Victim Recommendations
    • Domestic Violence and Arizona Law
    • Some Common Ways Abusers Control Victims

Why this lockdown is more challenging for women?

  • Currently, around 67 percent of the world’s healthcare workers are women, they are naturally more prone to infection.
  • Women are already burdened with three times more unpaid care work than men. During lockdowns the burden increases manifold.
  • As the lockdowns impose stricter control on one’s mobility, they put women in abusive relationships at extremely high risk of damage from physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • As government directives close schools, colleges, universities globally and the workforce largely switches over to working from home, women and girls are left more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • In support of this, data from west African countries in the wake of the 2014 Ebola outbreak showed that concurrent with the lockdowns and closure of workplaces, schools and colleges, there was a steady increase in rape, sexual assault and violence against women and girls.
  • NGOs working in Sierra Leone reported an upshot in teenage pregnancy rates from rapes and assaults, as young women and girls were at much higher risk at home.
  • Overall, over one year, sexual violence increased 40percent.
  • In 2018, a United Nations study suggested globally, home was the most unsafe place for women.
  • Of all female murders, an overwhelming 82 percent happen in their marital homes, and are committed by an intimate partner or a family member.
  • As special cases, the dowry related death and honour killings have found special mention in the report, where the natal home of a woman also frequently becomes a dangerous place for her.
  • 6 percent women in the same age group have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.
  • About 31 percent of married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their spouses.

What is the situation at global level?

  • Globally, violence against women affects one in three women. Closer home, the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16) (NFHS-4) suggests that 30 percent women in India in the age group of 15-49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
  • From the Hubei province in China to Brazil, from France to the UK, countries from all continents have already noted a rise in violent crimes against women.
  • In the province of Hubei in Wuhan, China, which is the heart of the first outbreak of the Coronavirus, domestic violence reports to police tripled during the February lockdown period and rose to 162 from 47 last year.
  • According to local activists, 90 percent of the new cases have their roots in the COVID-19 related lockdown.
  • Brazil: In Brazil state-run shelters are estimating 40-50 percent rise in demands from endangered women. European countries report 20-30 per cent increases in calls to domestic violence helplines, from Catalonia to Cyprus.
  • Spain: In Spain, where lockdown rules are among the strictest, with heavy fines levied on anyone not complying, domestic violence related fatalities have been reported in Valencia.
  • France: In France, the interior minister has reported domestic violence incidents have shot up by more than 30 per cent since the country went into lockdown on March 17.
  • Paris: Paris alone reported an up shot of 36 percent.
  • United Kingdom: In the UK, calls to the national abuse hotline has gone up to 65 percent last weekend.

Domestic violence in India:

  • In India, the National Commission of Women has recorded 291 complaints of domestic violence in March and is now only receiving complaints via email.
  • Alarmingly, the hotlines run by NGOs and volunteer organisations, that are usually the avenues for women to report such attacks are eerily silent.
  • This drop probably reflects the continuous presence of the abuser at home during the lockdown.
  • With curtailed mobility and a police force that is more than apathetic towards gender-based violence, women are losing even the avenues that could have saved them from abuse, and in extreme cases, death.
  • Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), police are not the first responder for women who experience domestic violence.
  • The counselling centres are supposed to reach out to the complainants. During the lockdown the closure of these services can be lethal for women who need them.
  • India direly needs an alternative alert system and a swift response to rescue women from dangerous situations.

Constitutional provisions to curb violence (in India):

  • The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its:
    • Preamble
    • Fundamental Rights
    • Fundamental Duties
    • Directive Principles

The Constitution not only grants equality to women but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favor of women for neutralizing the cumulative socio-economic, education and political disadvantages faced by them. 

Constitutional provisions:

  • Article 14: It confers on men and women equal rights and opportunities in the political, economic and social sphere.
  • Article 15: It prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, etc.
  • Article 16: It provides for equality of opportunities matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.
  • Article 39(a)(d): It mentions policy security of state equality for both men and women the right to a means of livelihood and equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
  • Article 42: It directs the State to make provision for ensuring just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.

Some Legal Provisions for Women:

  • Indian Penal Code: Section 354 and 509 safeguards the interests of women.
  • Factories Act 1948: Under this Act, a woman cannot be forced to work beyond 8 hours and it also prohibits employment of women except between 6 A.M. and 7 P.M.
  • Maternity Benefit Act 1961: A Woman is entitled 12 weeks' maternity leave with full wages.
  • The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: Under this Act demand of dowry either before marriage, during marriage and or after the marriage is an offense.
  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971: It safeguards women from unnecessary and compulsory abortions.
  • The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976: It provides equal wages for equal work to both men and women workers for the same work or work of similar nature. It also prohibits discrimination against women in the matter of recruitment.
  • The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1976: It raised the age for marriage of a girl to 18 years from 15 years and that of a boy to 21 years.
  • 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act: These Constitutional Amendments Act reserved 1/3rd seats in Panchayat and Urban Local Bodies for women.
  • The National Commission for Women Act, 1990: The Commission was set up in 1992 to review the Constitutional and legal safeguards for women.
  • Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005: It is a legislation aimed at protecting women from violence in domestic relationships. It refers to harming or injuring a woman in a domestic relationship, be it physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, or economic abuse.

Impact of Violence: 

  • Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfillment of women and girls’ human rights. 
  • All in all, the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - to leave no one behind - cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls.
  • Due to the patriarchal traditions, women continue to pay the highest price as a result of gender inequality, discrimination, and negative stereotypes. They are also the most likely to be killed by intimate partners and family.
  • Gender-based violence can pose a danger to a woman's reproductive health and can scar a survivor psychologically, cognitively and interpersonally. 
  • A woman who experiences domestic violence and lives in an abusive relationship with her partner may be forced to become pregnant or have an abortion against her will, or her partner may knowingly expose her to a sexually transmitted infection.
  • A child who has undergone or witnessed violence may become withdrawn, anxious or depressed on the one hand; on the other hand, the child may become aggressive and exert control over younger siblings.
  • Gender-based violence is heavy a health burden for women of ages 15-is as that posed by HIV, tuberculosis, and infection during childbirth, cancer, and heart diseases.

What needs to be done?

  • Human rights & intersectional based approach: Governments must utilise a human rights and intersectional based approach to ensure that everyone, including the most marginalised, has access to necessary information, support systems and resources during the current crisis.
  • Extending help & publicising: The state governments need to declare helplines as “essential services” that should remain open during lockdowns. Disseminate information about gender-based violence and publicise resources and services available.
  • Resourcing NGOs: Increase resourcing for NGOs that respond to domestic violence and aid — including shelter, counselling, and legal aid — to survivors, and promote those that remain open.
  • Equitable sharing of domestic tasks: Encourage the equitable sharing of domestic tasks at home.
  • Uninterrupted healthcare services: Provide for the continued provision of healthcare services based on medical research and tests — unrelated to the virus — for women and girls.
  • Timely access to health service: Ensure women’s timely access to necessary and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services during the crisis, such as maternal health services, safe abortion etc.
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