OPINION: Covid-19 – A triggering factor for domestic violence

KATHMANDU: “Stay Home Stay Safe” is a slogan widely followed by at least 216 countries and territories in the world currently being hit hard by the COVID- 19 pandemic. WHO’s strong guideline says, staying home saves life, whereas maintaining social distance, or physical distance, helps to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many affected countries have implemented lockdowns with national and international travel restrictions and shutting down universities, schools, restaurants, film halls, gyms and other public places. They have found the lockdown to be the most significant measure in the fight against the pandemic. Nepal too has followed the modality and imposed a nation-wide lockdown since March 24 after its second case was recorded.

Along with the lockdown, cases of domestic violence have surged not only in under- developed and developing countries but also in the developed world. Nepal is no exception. With the lockdown, the number of cases of domestic violence, rape, suicide has escalated. A report published by the National Women Commission discloses that 604 cases of domestic violence took place in Nepal during a two-month lockdown period, out of which 139 were related to abuse of women. Domestic violence seems to have increased by 77 per cent after the lockdown compared to the period before it. Similarly, WOREC Nepal reported 465 cases of violence against women and girls from 37 districts of the country. Among the documented cases, 293 cases were of domestic violence and 39 cases of social violence. In most of the cases, the perpetrators of violence were found to be husbands, in-laws and parents.

Obviously to break the chain of community transmission of the disease, staying home has worked to be an effective preventive measure. However, if we look at the social aspect and the structural construction of our society, it raises the question: Is staying home really safe for all?

One’s home is said to be the safest place for everyone because there is no place like home. Yet the aforementioned data and cases show that a home might be safe for many but not for all. In spite of the huge effort to save a large number of lives from the pandemic, this lockdown has put some vulnerable groups more at risk. They include children, elderly, teenage girls and women. For the victims of domestic violence, life at home is turning into a nightmare with no escape from their abuser.

The pandemic has thus created a situation of fear of the virus outside and fear of the abuser inside. Women are especially prone to suffer more during this pandemic than in normal times because they are compelled to live with the abuser day in day out. Many victims cannot reach out to seek help for various reasons like having no access, lack of awareness and, most importantly, the fear of the abuser.

As people are not allowed to go outside, the conflict becomes more frequent and grows only bigger.  The kids, who are unable to go to school, are witness to not only the positive but also negative behaviours of their parents. So the ill behaviour, mistreatment, aggression and abuse within a family not only affect the victim but also have an adverse impact on child psychology, which could be long term.

To overcome such problems and challenges, many countries have provided helpline numbers to inform the concerned authorities about the violence they are facing inside closed doors. In Spain's Canary Islands, the Institute for Equality has launched a campaign called Mascarilla-19 (Mask-19), which stresses that escaping abuse is a valid reason to leave home. It comes with the idea that when a woman experiences violence at home or sexual assault, she can go to the nearest pharmacy and request Mask-19. The pharmacy staff takes the woman's name, address and phone number and alert the emergency services for help.

Similarly, in Nepal, the National Women Commission and WOREC Nepal are trying to address the issue with helpline numbers 1145 and 16600178910 respectively. Although these helpline numbers are somehow helping to ensure safety inside the home, not everyone, however, has access to these resources. Thus, it should be the concern of the local government, concerned authorities, civil society, institutions and individuals to monitor issues of violence in their province, municipal areas, wards and even neighbours.

READ: Gender-based violence and COVID-19

Mobilising social workers, social mobilisers, social activists and volunteers to identify cases of violence existing in their community, studying the nature of violence, diagnosing it about the possible cause and effect and letting them choose a better option by respecting their right to self- determination would be a better idea to cope with domestic violence. Social workers can act as a bridge between the public and government by applying the knowledge, skills and principles of social work. This, however, is possible only when the local government and local organisation work collaboratively.

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