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New Social Compact

Stay Home, Stay Unsafe: The Violent Fallout of Lockdown on Women

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Authors: Prateek Khandelwal and Nikhil Hans*

The unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 led to a worldwide shutdown. The “locked’ world aims to break the web of infection and flatten the curve. Though, the lockdown acted as a pause button to freeze the planet, it has reshuffled the lives of millions. The pandemic has generated multilateral effects; economies crashed but the environment was seen relaxing, and many more. Subsequently, the lockdown shielded the world from witnessing violent crimes. The figures of several cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and Coimbatore have observed 60-90% decrease in crime rate as compare to last year. Violent crimes such as murder and rape have fallen even more sharply, all credited to the nationwide lockdown. However, with fewer people venturing out, cases of domestic abuse have witnessed a sharp increase, and this is happening not only in India but across the world. The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”

Domestic Violence: A Shadow Pandemic

The concept of social distancing and staying home can surely mitigate the challenge posed by the ongoing crisis. But the metaphor of Lakshman Rekha quoted to break the network of the virus has proved to be unfortunate for the women again.

For long, women were confined within this permanent state of lockdown, it was only in the past couple of decades that women have begun crossing the Lakshman Rekha of violent homes and strengthening themselves to control their lives. Despite this, homes remain the most unsafe environment for women where one in every three women in India continue to face violence. Domestic Violence is one of the most normalised “shadow” pandemics, which has been adapted as a pattern of life. Experience of Covid-19 shows that in times of exigencies violence and offences against women increases.

In the context of women, “#Stay Home, Stay Safe” quoted to prevent the spread of Corona, sounds ironical as the nation could overpower Corona, but women will be forced to stay close to their perpetrators. This legitimised lockdown has caused a steep rise in violence against women.  According to the data of National Commission for Women, 587 were registered complaints from March 23 to April 16, out of which 239 were of Domestic Violence. A contrast can easily be cited, as only 123 cases of domestic violence were received between February 27 and March 22, while the total number was 396 in that period. NALSA report shows that in two months of lockdown, till May 15, more than 144 cases were reported in Uttarakhand alone. In another report, by Sakhi One Stop Centers, a spike is witnessed as 89% of the total number of cases registered were of domestic violence.

Moreover, lockdown has reduced the outlets from this exploitation and therefore preventing women to register complaints against the perpetrators. As women who are victims of domestic violence are locked in with their perpetrators, for months together. Such women in “ordinary circumstances” could have sought help from the authorities, sought shelter elsewhere or sought medical aid after the abuse. However, each of these outlets has been shut down due to the lockdown to prevent the spread of the “pandemic”. If the domestic abuse were a virus in itself, locked homes would have increased its breeding rate and mutated a more complicated variant that would have seeped into the genes of the patriarchal society.

Corona and Global Domestic Trend

The incidence of domestic violence is not restricted to India only. The trend of abuse has perpetrated all over the world as a consequence of the lockdown. The women and children who are victims of domestic harassment have no escape from their abusers during the quarantine. As the lockdown is entering into the next phases, the problem has risen alarmingly and steeped across jurisdictions.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the risk of intimate partner violence is likely to increase, as distancing measures are put in place, and people are encouraged to stay at home. On April 6, UN chief António Guterres called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments to combat Coronavirus pandemic.

Fuelled by mandatory stay-at-home norms, social “physical” distancing, economic fallout, and anxieties caused by the corona pandemic, domestic abuse has increased globally. Across the globe, there is a surge in the reported cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence including China, United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, and others. Now, with houses locked up in the worldwide shutdown, headlines are lighting up with violence reports, leaving no choice with the governments other than to address the crisis. Modified policies are being transcript since no jurisdiction governed by the rule of law had a provision to curb the domestic crime in this unprecedented crisis.

To tackle the surge, Spain and Portugal modified lockdown guidelines to include protection and assistance of victims of gender abuse as “essential services”. As a preventive measure, the government of government of France has booked hotels to shelter women seeking a safe environment; also toll booths were set up at groceries and pharmacies so women can register complaints against the abuser. As a social step to fight this evil, in France, Italy, Norway and Spain a code is in trend wherein a woman asks a pharmacist for Mask -19. This is a pseudonym for him to call for help.

Conclusion: What Have Resulted In Increase Of Domestic Violence During Pandemic?

From the past few decades, there have been attempts by the NGOs, social activist and government to restrict domestic violence against women and protect her constitutional rights. However, still, it has been increasing day by day and this time a bit differently. As most of the countries are under lockdown and fewer people are venturing out, this has put women under severe threat, because they are being subjected to domestic abuse and the cases has increased drastically in these lockdowns and pandemics. But why this is so?

Firstly, as most of the people used to live in other cities and states, separately from their wives and children for the works but due to lockdowns caused due to COVID-19 pandemic they came home and living together with their family. And fear of losing jobs and financial distress have resulted in physical, mental and psychological stress which in turn provoking and increasing the cases of domestic violence.

Secondly, Alcohol is one of the major reason behind surge of domestic abuse. Despite of lockdowns and ongoing pandemics alcohol are being supplied under the table and as we know, people (mainly migrant labourers) who came home and got out of cash, they are asking their wives (women being ‘Karta’ at homes i.e. they keep money to run homes) for money, denial of which resulting in domestic violence. Consumption of alcohol is itself resulting in increase of domestic abuse because, a large number of people are at their homes as compare to pre-pandemic situation.

Suggestions: Need Of New Approaches And Ideas

Human civilisation has come so far now, everything about humans has changed except the “patriarchal mindset.” We as a society have failed in protecting, and uplifting the liberty and dignity of women, so it is a high time that every member of the society needs to change their perspective on women. Just enactment of stringent laws will not bring us a decline in Domestic Violence. Pandemic and further lockdown has affected people and working of justice systems as it is unsafe to go out, which has restricted victims (women) to seek remedy and redressal. So, to provide such women access to justice in this pandemic, there is a need of new approach and ideas i.e. if these women are unable to reach authorities then authorities should reach them.

Government should conduct door to door survey at village, Nagar Parishad and Anumandal level through Aganwadi Sevika, Sahayka and ASHA workers (as they are women so victims will feel comfortable to share her problems with them). It should be conducted under the purview of Ward Sadasya, Sarpanch and Mukhiya at village level and, Ward members at Nagar Parishad and Anumandal level. If any of such women found, they should be provided with financial support and shelter to live. Doing the survey at lower level will be proven effective and efficient as it will help in reaching every houses and that too with proper safety because population density in villages are low and most of the above given authorities live at the place of their respective jurisdiction.

Women grievances cells and helpline numbers should be established in metropolitan cities (by dividing it in various zones according to population density) which are densely populated as physical movement either by authorities or victims would not be safe in this pandemic. Awareness about helpline number should be extended to people through T.V. news channels, paper media, social media platforms. 

These are some measures that the government can adopt, apart from increasing investment in organisations that provide aid to women. It only needs to remember that India’s women are not waiting by the wayside to be picked up at the end of the lockdown, they are shouldering the brunt of it and are being exploited while at it.

*Nikhil Hans is a 2nd Year student pursuing B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) from Chanakya National Law University, Patna

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New Social Compact

Laws Still Restrict Women’s Economic Opportunities Despite Progress

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Countries are inching toward greater gender equality, but women around the world continue to face laws and regulations that restrict their economic opportunity, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating new challenges to their health, safety, and economic security, a new World Bank report says.   

Reforms to remove obstacles to women’s economic inclusion have been slow in many regions and uneven within them, according to Women, Business and the Law 2021. On average, women have just three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men.  Women were already at a disadvantage before the pandemic, and government initiatives to buffer some of its effects, while innovative, have been limited in many countries, the report says.

“Women need to be fully included in economies in order to achieve better development outcomes,” said David Malpass, World Bank Group President. “Despite progress in many countries, there have been troubling reversals in a few, including restricting women’s travel without the permission of a male guardian. This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women, including barriers to attend school and maintain jobs. Women are also facing a rise in domestic violence and health and safety challenges. Women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the center of our efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Women, Business and the Law 2021 measures the laws and regulations across 8 areas that affect women’s economic opportunities in 190 countries, covering the period from September 2019-October 2020. From the basics of movement in the community to the challenges of working, parenting, and retiring, the data offers objective and measurable benchmarks for global progress toward gender equality. Following the outbreak of the pandemic, this report also looks at government responses to the COVID-19 crisis and how the pandemic has impacted women at work and at home, focusing on childcare, access to justice, and health and safety.

Overall, the report finds that many governments have put in place measures to address some of the impacts of the pandemic on working women. For example, less than a quarter of all economies surveyed in the report legally guaranteed employed parents any time off for childcare before the pandemic. Since then, in light of school closures, nearly an additional 40 economies around the world have introduced leave or benefit policies to help parents with childcare. Even so, these measures are likely insufficient to address the challenges many working mothers already face, or the childcare crisis.

The pandemic has also contributed to a rise in both the severity and frequency of gender-based violence. Preliminary research shows that since early 2020, governments introduced about 120 new measures including hotlines, psychological assistance, and shelters to protect women from violence. Some governments also took steps to provide access to justice in several ways, including declaring family cases urgent during lockdown and allowing remote court proceedings for family matters. However, governments still have room to enact measures and policies aimed at addressing the root causes of this violence.

While it is encouraging that many countries have proactively taken steps to help women navigate the pandemic, it’s clear that more work is needed, especially in improving parental leave and equalizing pay,” said Mari Pangestu, Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, The World Bank. “Countries need to create a legal environment that enhances women’s economic inclusion, so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families.”

Despite the pandemic, 27 economies in all regions and income groups enacted reforms across all areas and increased good practices in legislation in 45 cases during the year covered, the report found. The greatest number of reforms introduced or amended laws affecting pay and parenthood.

However, parenthood is also the area that leaves the most room for improvement globally. This includes  paid parental leave, whether benefits are administered by the government, and whether the dismissal of pregnant women is prohibited. Reforms are also needed to address the restrictions women face in the type of jobs, tasks, and hours they can work, segregating them into lower paid jobs. And in 100 economies, laws do not mandate that men and women be paid the same for equally valued jobs.

Achieving legal gender equality requires a concerted effort by governments, civil society, and international organizations, among others. But legal and regulatory reforms can serve as an important catalyst to improve the lives of women as well as their families and communities. Better performance in the areas measured by Women, Business and the Law is associated with narrowing the gender gap in development outcomes, higher female labor force participation, lower vulnerable employment, and greater representation of women in national parliaments.

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New Social Compact

Child Abuse & Legal System

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In world where the population is high, crime rate is higher. China has a separate system because China has a large population but the laws are so strict that people are afraid to commit crimes. Legal System of Punishments in China is strict . The recent example in china is during COVID 19. People in China during lockdown was following the laws so strictly. On the other hand the situation in all others countries was very clear.

In countries where the punishments are harsher and deterrent, there is a reduction in crimes. Whereas in countries where the punishments are softer, people do not stop committing crimes.

When we discuss about the Punishments in Islamic Legal System , In Islamic law and the Qur’an there are severe punishments in heinous offenses. In Islam, it has always been the case that if a person commits a major crime, he should be punished in such a way that he becomes a lesson for others and people learn from it.It is in Islam that if someone steals, his hands will be cut off, then no one will ever dare to steal. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) said that if my daughter Fatima also stole, I would cut off her hands.

Legal System of Pakistan , If the punishment is severe then the crime will decrease, if the punishment is not severe then the crime will increase day by day. In our country’s legal system Islamic law exist but No proper implementation is there. We mostly follow the principles of the common law for punishment.

The Pakistan Penal Code deals with punishments in criminal cases. Its origin is from the Indian Penal Code which is dated back to the 1860. When Pakistan came into being they renamed this enactment as Pakistan Panel Code. In fact, the origin of the mentioned punishments in the said enactment have basis from the Common Law System which was the system of British Government in the 19th Century. When  British Government was ruling over the Indo-Pak subcontinent, they made these laws in the beginning.

The Indian Penal Code was the basic legislation made in the 1860. Later on in 1898 the Code of Criminal Procedure was enacted also. Now in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh the same law is the basic criminal law with certain amendments. These laws have been changed a little bit, but their basic laws are the same and it is still implemented to a greater extent.

Example :According to section 377 of Pakistan Penal Code the unnatural offences are defined in a way that they are related to unnatural lust. If a man tries to have sex with a man and even if he tries to have sex with a child, his sentence is 10 years imprisonment. So if an offender wishes to abuse a child with a fear that if he is caught, he will be imprisoned, he will never commit such offense. Similarly if he knows that he will be released in little span of time on bail by getting the consent from the child’s family and by settling the matter by giving them some money, he may commit the offense without any fear. He may commit the same offense again and again.

Conclusion:It is important to create deterrence in punishments especially in heinous offenses so that people have fear of committing them. Only this way offenses can be controlled and society can be peaceful to live in.

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East Africa: The status of women remains unequal at all levels of society

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For over two decades, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) has been fighting for gender equality, empowerment of women and improvement of women’s rights in Kenya and broadly in East Africa. Established in 1999, CREAW has used bold, innovative and holistic interventions for the realization of women’s rights. Most of its programs have focused on challenging practices that undermine equity, equality and constitutionalism, promoting women’s participation in decision making and deepening the ideology and philosophy of women’s empowerment.

In this interview, Mercy Jelimo, an Executive Program Officer at the Nairobi-based Center for Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW) discusses the current situation about gender issues, landmarked achievements, existing challenges and the way forward. Here are the interview excerpts:

In your estimation and from your research, how is the situation with gender inequality, specifically in Kenya, and generally in East Africa?

MJ: This survey was commissioned by our partners Women Deliver and Focus 2030 with over 17,000 respondents covering 17 countries on six continents. The survey findings indicated that over 60% of respondents believed that Gender Equality had progressed. However, on average 57% of respondents also felt that the fight for gender equality is not over particularly because we see key aspects of gender inequality persist including:  unequal distribution of unpaid care, domestic work and parental responsibilities between men and women (the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the burden women bear as caregivers) different employment opportunities with religion and culture continuing to entrench discrimination against women.

Whereas in East Africa, the survey only covered Kenya, the results are shared across. In particular, the Kenyan respondents indicated that there has been notable progress in regards to Gender equality particularly when it comes to the legal and policy frameworks to guard against discrimination on whichever basis be it sex, religion, class or race.

Over the last quarter century, the country has promulgated a new Constitution and a raft of subsidiary legislations and policies that are critical to Gender equality. Some of these laws include but not limited to: the Sexual Offences Act 2006, the Children’s Act 2001, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011, the Marriage Act 2014, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act 2015, the Victim Protection Act 2014, the Witness Protection Act 2008, the National Policy for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence 2014, the National Guidelines on the Management of Sexual Violence 2015, the Multi-sector Standard Operating Procedures for Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence, and the National Policy on the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 2019.

Kenya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, among other instruments. However, even with this robust legal framework, accountability and the implementation of these laws have lagged behind.

The status of women and girls as compared to men and boys still remains unequal at all levels of society both public and private. This imbalance manifests itself as normalized negative social norms and ‘cultural’ practices with brutal violations against women and girls continuing to be perpetrated, women being excluded from leadership and decision making  positions, limited in their political participation and women and girls being denied access to economic opportunities.

Undeniably, women and girls continue to be victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including rape, domestic violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. In fact, as of March 2020, according to statistics from Kenya’s Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), 45% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence with women with girls accounting for 90% of gender-based violence (SGBV) cases reported. Harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage are still prevalent, with the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014) reporting a national FGM prevalence rate of 21% for women and girls aged 15-49 years of age. The prevalence rate differs from one practicing community to the other, with communities such Somali (96%) Samburu (86%) and The Maasai (78%) having significantly higher prevalence. 

Sadly, this is the story across all the other countries in East Africa where we have progressive legal and Policy framework but with zero accountability mechanisms. It is worth noting that in 2018, the East Africa Community Council of Ministers approved the EAC Gender policy which is key to ensuring that gender equality and empowerment of women are not only integrated into every aspect of its work but provides an outline of key priority areas for partner states. The EAC has also instituted other gender mainstreaming efforts including the EAC Social Development framework (2013), the EAC child policy (2016) the EAC Youth policy (2013), a Gender Mainstreaming Strategy for EAC Organs and Institutions, (2013) amongst others.

By the way, what are your research findings that you presented in report on Jan 28? Are there any similarities and differences about gender studies in other East Africa countries?

MJ: The key findings from Kenya can generally be used to paint a picture of the situation in the EAC region. Apparent Gender disparities in the region remain in a number of areas such as in political representation, access to education and training, access to quality and affordable healthcare, high unemployment rates of women, rampant sexual and gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, inadequate financing for gender needs and programs. 

Firstly, when asked about the status of Gender Equality, the majority of respondents identified Gender Equality as an important issue (96%) and that government should do more (invest) to promote gender equality.

Secondly, the role of religion and culture; how boys and girls are socialized and unequal representation were identified as obstacles to gender equality. This finding indicates the work that still remains to be done for Gender equality actors in Kenya and other partner states in the EAC. The most important step to achieving gender equality is dismantling systems and structures that promote and protect inequalities. whereas the country has made tremendous progress in having relevant legal and policy frameworks, there is still lack of implementation of these laws – this finding answers the why question– because institutions, people and structures are still very patriarchal. Furthermore, the lack of representation of women (also cited by Kenyan respondents as an obstacle) might explain the failures in implementation of the laws and policies.

Thirdly, the respondents identified corruption as the most important issue facing the country. This finding is also supported by the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa survey that showed that more than half of citizens in the continent think graft is getting worse and that governments were doing very little to curb the vice.  The impact that corruption has on service delivery cannot be overemphasized especially on public goods such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation. More specifically, is the resulting lack of public financing to programs and interventions that address gender needs & promote gender equality.

A recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) Report by Transparency International indicated that all the countries in East Africa with the exception of Rwanda scored below the global average rate of 43 out of 100. More importantly is that the report noted that countries that perform well on the CPI have strong enforcement of campaign finance regulations as this correlates with the dismal performance of women in politics who often than not do not have the requisite political funding to mount effective political campaigns and outcompete their male counterparts.

What would you say about discrimination or representation of women in politics in the region? Do you feel that women are not strongly encouraged in this political sphere?

MJ: There has been significant progress when it comes to women’s political representation and participation with a majority of the countries in the EAC region adopting constitutional quotas and other remedies to promote representation. All the countries in the East Africa Community have achieved the 30% critical mass with the exception of Kenya (21%) and South Sudan (28%). More women occupy ministerial portfolios that were perceived to be the preserve of men such as defense, foreign affairs, manufacturing, trade, public service and so forth. Not to miss that the leading country globally – Rwanda is from the region (63%).

However, most institutions including parliaments are still male dominated and women in the region still face a number of challenges including violence against women in politics, religious and cultural beliefs and norms that limit women role, lack of support from political parties, lack of campaign financing and unregulated campaign financing environment with the progressive legal and policy frameworks yet to be fully implemented. These challenges continue to limit the representation and participation of women in public and  political sphere. The region is yet to have a woman as a president just to illustrate the glass ceilings that remain.

Tell us about how women are perceived (public opinion) in the society there? How is the state or government committed to change this situation, most probably by enacting policies?

MJ: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I ‘ll tell you what you value” This quote by President Joe Biden aptly captures the state of affairs in the region in relation to gender equality. The countries in the region have continued to enact and reform legal and policy frameworks but have largely remain unimplemented. The primary reasons being lack of financial and accountability mechanisms to ensure that these programs and policies are actualized. For us to reach to the conclusion that governments are committed to promoting gender equality and women empowerment, we need to see a shift from lip service to prioritization and adequate resourcing of programs that advance gender equality.

What platforms are there for improving gender equality, for ending gender-based violence and for discussing forms of discrimination there? Do you suggest governments have to act now to accelerate issues and progress on gender equality in East Africa?

MJ: As Deliver for Good Campaign partners in Kenya together with other gender equality advocates, the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa Agenda 2063 provide important blueprints to developing our society economically, socially and politically. The Deliver for Good campaign is an evidence-based advocacy campaigns that call for better policies, programming and financial investments in girls and women. Most importantly, the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is an important mobilization moment to ask governments and private sector to accelerate progress not just in East Africa but globally. Specifically, we will be using this moment to call on governments, not only make bigger and bolder commitments but also, to ensure that they match these commitments with financing and accountability mechanisms.

As the Deliver for Good campaign partners in Kenya, we have a particular interest on one of the GEF Action Coalitions – Gender Based Violence – to leverage on the Kenyan government leadership and the political will to end traditional practices that are harmful to women and girls such as Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage. Particularly and in line with the survey findings, we will be calling for: increased accountability for physical and sexual crimes against women; increased investment on prevention and protection programs while calling for inclusive efforts and programs that leave no woman behind in Kenya and East Africa.

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