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Domestic Violence; Horrifying Global Surge amid Lockdown

Lockdowns to curb coronavirus spread has spiked domestic abuse calls by 60% across the European Continent. Lockdowns and quarantines are essential to combat COVID-19. Meanwhile, it has trapped women with their abusive partners resulting in increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and perception of stress with increased domestic violence, divorce and suicidal rates.

“The past month of restrictive measures and lockdowns have understandably bred stress and anxiety. Social networks are disrupted, and insecurity and financial strains with jobs in jeopardy. For many, uncertainty, separation, and fear are part of daily life,” says WHO European regional office.

Countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Russian Federation, Spain, UK and others have reported numerous cases of violence against women and men by an intimate partner and against children. Resulting in a five times rise in inquiries to violence prevention and support hotlines.

Intimate partner violence can be explained as harm or threat to harm in forms of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or economical. Perpetrated by a current spouse or a former spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner.

Before the outbreak of the current pandemic, 1 in 3 women globally, experienced some sort of violence in her lifetime. According to the WHO report (2002), 10-69 per cent of women have reported physical assault by an intimate male partner in some points in their lives.

Lockdowns which are vital to fighting against the pandemic has increased stress levels, economic, food insecurity and unemployment, giving more power to the abuser.  Also, the restrictions imposed on movement have shut down the means of help the victims could reach out for. The governments should have seen this coming as the control measures are being imposed.

“Peace is not just the absence of war. Many women under lockdown for Covid-19 face violence where they should be safest; in their own homes. Today I appeal for peace in homes around the world. And I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic” tweets the UN chief Antonio Guterres.

Italy was the first country to impose lockdown in early March. Soon after it was imposed, emergency calls by violence victims have started to rise each day. Desperate women could not seek shelter as the whole country was terrified of the infection spread. So the government said local authorities could requisition hotel rooms to serve as makeshift shelters where victims could be safe of both violence and infection.

Spain announced Lockdown on March 14th. Following the murder of a woman by her husband in front of their two children in the Spanish town Almassora, the government declared three-day mourning and the activists and local authority at Spain’s Cannary Islands set a programme called “mascarilla” to help the desperate women. “Mascarilla” Spanish word for “mask” followed by number 19 is used as the code word by victims of domestic violence to seek help and inform the responsible authorities through the nearby pharmacies.

In France within the first week of lockdown more than 30% rise in the country’s domestic violence cases were reported. The government took immediate measures to address the horrifying surge in domestic violence cases. Temporary support centres were set outside supermarkets and Pharmacists were given guidelines to assist the domestic violence victims who came for help. Also, the French government has paid 20,000 overnight stays in hotels and shelters for the victims who decided to leave their abusive partners during the lockdown period.

In Britain, authorities waited longer for a lockdown. As it was imposed, within the first week the calls to the national domestic abuse helpline have increased by 49%. Reports say that 14 women and 3 children have been killed by abusers within the first three weeks of lockdown. The home affairs select committee has said: “we will be dealing with serious consequences for a generation, the strategy to combat domestic violence should include raising awareness, prevention, victim support, housing and a criminal justice response, supported with dedicated funding and ministerial leadership”.

The UN agency for sexual and reproductive health (UNFPA) estimates that there would be 31 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide if lockdowns continue for another six months.

Eventually, the lockdowns will end. However, the Domestic violence felony flourished by the pandemic will keep intensifying. Global community should come forward to combat this health crisis through multifaceted responses. Beginning from addressing individual risk factors to addressing larger social, cultural and economic factors. The nations should take initiatives in planning, implementing and monitoring successful action plans which would answer the question “When will this world be a safe place for women?”

By Jumana Jabeer

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