On the 24th of March, the government issued a 21-day mandatory lockdown for the entire nation of India to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Reducing social contact with others and locking ourselves in the safety of our homes is crucial in order to not only protect ourselves but other groups of people who are vulnerable to falling ill. However, this necessary and life-saving effort has unintended ramifications for another group of vulnerable people; those who suffer domestic violence.
With the mandatory lockdowns in place, women and children are no longer able to find any reprieve in their homes from their abusers, a concern that has been raised by activists worldwide.
“The very technique we are using to protect people from the virus can perversely impact victims of domestic violence. While we absolutely support the need to follow these measures of social distancing and isolation, we also recognise that it provides an opportunity for abusers to unleash more violence.”
– Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women.
When the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, domestic violence rates shot up. When wars are fought, rape is an extremely gendered form of violence enacted against women. While the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, domestic violence rates have gradually increased. The common denominator to all of these situations is that during times of severe uncertainty and anticipatory anxiety alongside macroeconomic decline like loss of jobs or staggered sources of income, women and children’s bodies become sites of violence. While the lockdown has facilitated a situation that was entirely unintended, as Anita Bhatia says, the opportunity for abusers to unleash their violence is severe, and thus cannot be ignored.
The home is commonly seen as a “safe space”, a space that is free of conflict, prejudices and violence. However social relations are not void of power dynamics in the home, and there is always one individual who wields more power than others. The coronavirus lockdown has many experiencing a lack in exercising that power and control, and gets translated against those who are more vulnerable at home in the form of domestic violence and child abuse.
According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women face some form of domestic abuse and India ranks at 125 on the Gender Inequality Index. This suggests that women have far less access to economic, social, political and health resources. Due to this, women are far less likely to reach out for help and are also forced to stay at home with their abusers without ever reporting it.
However, there are resolution mechanisms. The first thing people can do is offer emotional support by simply listening and believing what victims are going through. It is important that victims trust the ones they confide into, as people can provide an empathetic and non-judgemental space for victims to express themselves in. The next step would be to assess whether we’re equipped with taking further action, or if there is an individual or an organisation whose expertise relies on conflict resolution and counselling.
While we all try and stay safe from the coronavirus in our homes, let’s also make sure that we make home a safe space as well.