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 Table of Contents  
LETTER TO EDITOR
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 47-50

Domestic and gender-Based violence: Pakistan scenario amidst COVID-19


1 Department of Social Work, University of Peshawar; Paraplegic Center, Peshawar, Pakistan
2 Pharmacy Unit, Paraplegic Center, Peshawar, Pakistan
3 Paraplegic Center; Department of Psychology, Islamia College University, Peshawar, Pakistan

Date of Submission04-Jul-2020
Date of Decision05-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance25-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication9-Feb-2021

Correspondence Address:
Adnan Ashraf
Department of Social Work, University of Peshawar, Peshawar
Pakistan
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/shb.shb_45_20

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How to cite this article:
Ashraf A, Ali I, Ullah F. Domestic and gender-Based violence: Pakistan scenario amidst COVID-19. Asian J Soc Health Behav 2021;4:47-50

How to cite this URL:
Ashraf A, Ali I, Ullah F. Domestic and gender-Based violence: Pakistan scenario amidst COVID-19. Asian J Soc Health Behav [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 May 18];4:47-50. Available from: http://www.healthandbehavior.com/text.asp?2021/4/1/47/308812



Dear Editor,

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) created chaos across the globe. First surfaced in China, no one could have expected that the epidemic will turn into a pandemic. The current pandemic is not only a universal concern of public health but it has also aggravated the economic recession around the globe associated with actions such as limited movement and social isolation, added by distressful effects on the lives of susceptible segments.[1],[2]

Worldwide, the current pandemic has drastically disturbed the vulnerable groups, especially women's exposure to a number of threats and violence, and among the grimmest is violence. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the magnitude of sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) is a global phenomenon and reveals that 35% of women in their lifetime have already experienced it, whereas during emergency situations, the figure increased above 70%.[2]

Furthermore, findings discoursed that coping strategies during epidemics may surge the practice of violence and abuse applied on gender and domestic level.[3],[4] Literature findings support that men unemployment leads to accelerate the spell of violent behavior, depression, and aggression. Similarly, the outbreak of Ebola revealed that economic impact resulted in an intensified risk of women sexual exploitation. Around the world, the ongoing environment of lockdown and closure of economic points could raise tensions and converted into the exposure of women prey of exploitation and vulnerability.[5],[6]

Mobility restrictions, lockdown, social distancing, and social isolation strategies are vital to combat COVID-19, but at the same time, these preventive actions are making many women even more vulnerable, giving more power to the abusers and perpetrators of domestic and GBV, which the United Nations (UN) now refers to as “the shadow pandemic.” According to the UN WOMEN,[7] report showed a concern of UN Secretary General on a “horrifying global surge” of domestic violence. Thus, the steps initiated to reduce the spreading of the pandemic are probably creating an encouraging grounds for the second global public health emergency: the growing number of GBV incidents.

An increase in GBV has been observed during COVID-19 worldwide. This increment during the current situation is not highly unanticipated but more common. During the lockdown, various countries have reported a momentous increase in cases of domestic violence. For instance, in the initial complete lockdown at Tunisia, a hotline established for women abuse received calls fivefold. In continuation, “a state-run hotline in Spain recorded 12.5% increase and similarly 270% surge of online consultations of the helpline's website.” In Cyprus (as of April 3), cases of domestic violence have almost doubled; in the United Kingdom, 65% increase to the national abuse hotline has been noted. In Hubei province (China), police reports stated a threefold rise in domestic violence. In China, after the lockdown policy was applied during the epidemic, domestic violence reports doubled. In Turkey, the outbreak crisis left many women failed to connect or receive proper help through the police emergency line. In Brazil, the policy of isolation boosted cases to 40% at the state-run drop-in centers.[8]

In Italy, after 5 days of the lockdown policy, its first domestic violence case reported. Moreover, a strict policy of lockdown kept away many women from seeking help.[9] In India, during the lockdown, a hotline of the National Commission for Women has recorded a surge in calls.[8]

In Australia, Google searchers for “Support” have reported 75% spike since the initial days of COVID-19.[10] In France, GBV cases have accelerated after the lockdown, and they have established pop up counseling centers and would pay for hotel expenses of the victims.[8] In Kenya, response to the containment of virus, the cases of sexual, domestic, and GBV have increased considerably. Helpline calls have increased in Argentina, Singapore, Lebanon, and Malaysia.[11]

Pakistan is no exception in this regard; multiple factors, i.e., meltdown of the economy, lost jobs, and men working from home drove the pace of domestic violence cases. The country has limited experience in dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude since independence.

The findings of the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2017–2018 revealed that 28% of women, aged from 15 to 49 years, have got victimized of physical violence and the violence of sexual nature also touched 6%. Furthermore, approximately 7% of pregnant women have got subjected to violence and 34% of victims are the married women who have fallen prey to their partners in the form of emotional, physical, and sexual violence. The most common type of spousal violence is emotional violence (26%), which is followed by physical violence (23%). Nearly 5% of the married women have experienced spousal sexual violence.[12]

It is estimated that one out of every four women has confronted some level of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. This reveals that across the country, approximately 8 million women have fallen prey to some level of violence during this imposed lockdown. According to the World Economic Forum on the Global Gender Gap Index (December 2019), Pakistan was placed 151st out of 153 countries. According to the WHO, approximately 38% of women's murders are committed by a close partner, and Pakistan has one of the largest numbers of domestic violence in the world.[13]

In the current situation, the cases are turning the media attention of press and flooding social media platforms, thus we proposed to present the COVID-19 lockdown related GBV cases reported in press media. We followed to utilize the press media reported violence cases. For the mentioned purpose, the English online Pakistani newspapers from March to May 20, 2020 have been searched. Duplicate reports of the same news in various web pages have been removed. Seven newspaper reports met the criteria for the study, whereas a total of 17 cases have been reported. Of the total violence cases, most of them were young women and the age of the individuals ranged from 7 to 25 years.[14],[15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21] The cases reported experienced the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the WHO recognized domestic violence as a “worldwide health problem of epidemic extents” and called that violence from an intimate partner has reached to 30% for women worldwide and is the largely practiced form of violence against women.[2] The declaration by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated that GBV cases will surge to at least 31 million, if the lockdown policy continued for the coming 6 months.[22]

The novel coronavirus badly affected 215 countries[23] (including territories and areas); similarly, questions of potential concerns are put forward on the pre-existing disparities from social and gender angle in Pakistan. Although the country is experiencing the epidemic for the first time since independence, an age-old evil of violence against women is still in practice.

In Pakistan, during the lockdown, the police records illustrate an escalating tendency in domestic abuse. In a male-controlled society of Pakistan, women were already exposed to numerous threats, now on the forefront of the added burden of physical violence and expected harm. The lockdown confined victims within four walls of the abode, easily approachable, and not able to call for assistance and with zero option of escape to family and friends. The office of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ombudsperson released a statement indicating a surge in cases of domestic violence to a ballpark figure of over 500; similarly, according to the police records of March 2020, a total of 399 cases of murder against women have been reported.[24]

Likewise, Sindh police registers reveal an uptrend in violence cases against women with around ten cases of karo-kari (commonly used for honor killing, especially in the Sindh region of Pakistan) recorded in the month of March 2020 only. Of the total 525 calls received to the helpline started by the Ministry of Human Rights', about 250 were complaints of domestic violence against women. The basic protection services available to the victims are almost closed in the country during pandemic. For instance, female crisis centers and complaint cells managed by the Division of Sindh Women Development are not active at the current moment being considered “nonessential” facilities.[8]

Shelter homes for women's safety from potential abuse do not support new inmates owing to concern of the outbreak, the judiciary also restricted its services, making it even more difficult for women to get immediate help. Counseling or security assistance services have become even less useful for women as their accessibility to telephones and resources has become more limited. Currently, the absence of programs to protect against domestic violence strengthens a climate of immunity for perpetrators and is probably to give abusers more confidence “when no one looks.”

Autonomous bodies including the National Commission on Human Rights and also the National Commission on the Status of Women remain dysfunctional due to “red tapism” (bureaucratic hurdles) for the last several months. Advocacy groups and leaders of civil society advocated for household violent acts danger to be included as part of the COVID-19 disaster management. Alliance member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ending Violence against Women and Girls also said that women and girls are much more impacted by disease outbreak due to the gender disparities that are obvious in social structure as a whole.

The Ministry of Human Rights already started an initiative to include a helpline, 1099, and WhatsApp number, +923339085709 to help women register domestic violence or harassment cases during the disease outbreak. Nevertheless, in this part of the world where, as per the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, just 20% of women have mobile phones, intervention strategies ought to be taken that could also reach women at several tiers of the society.

Throughout the country, discrimination against women is indeed a crime but at the same time commonly known practice. Although we have legislation shielding women from abuse, the government may relinquish the authority to implement such legislation. This implies that women have such fundamentally perplexing ties with the government, on the one hand, the state offers women's equality in the form of constitutional protections, treaty obligations agreement, and also some meaningful reforms; on the other, it subtracts those rights by failing to enforce certain laws or taking steps to establish the environment whereby certain rights can indeed be realized.

The nation where socioeconomic development metrics are still very weak,[25] an outbreak is inclined more to exacerbate preexisting gender disparities. Women constitute approximately half of Pakistan's population; yet, despite adding values to socioeconomic development, they typically endure from multifaceted opportunity disparities.

The COVID-19 is a true human-spirit perspective. It is not about alleviating historical disparities, but rather about creating a society that is far fairer and more sustainable. Although women are the most seriously impacted beings by this disease outbreak, they would certainly be the foundation of societal transition.

What would be COVID-19's unforeseen consequences on the Pakistani women? While legal structures guarantee inclusion, there is fundamentally much deep-rooted inequality and a gap of gendered power. It would be compounded even in moments of crisis, such as the current one.

Research spanning domains, like economic policy and disaster response, clearly show that policies which do not involve or take account of female in decision-making are less successful and can even hurt.

Effective policy strategies are critical to recognize the higher risk of quarantined violence against women and children. To achieve greater equality, opportunities, and social protection, it will be significant to put on a purposeful gender lens to the plan of economic stimulus and social support packages.

During this time of emergency, the GBV prevention and response mechanism is of utmost importance to prevent this practice. The operationalization of all stakeholders (health, police, social workers, psychologists, human rights organization, and crisis centers) is crucial. A desperate need for free and easy access to technology-based resources is highly suggested during these pandemic coping strategies. GBV survivors' shelters should remain operational under strict adherence to protocols of social distancing, hand washing, etc., All the GBV helplines should remain open 24/7, whereas the legal and institutional framework needs to prioritize the subject. All frontline workers should be educated standards of case management, i.e., case registration, assessment, planning, referral, follow-up, and closure. As lockdown leads to negative emotions and depression, the media's role is of paramount importance to sensitize men of our society toward sharing domestic responsibilities with women during the lockdown and try to understand the burden of women caregiving toward family members. A success case study of television drama serial telecasted in Liberia aimed at improving gender norms and resulted in decreasing GBV provoked by depressive moods of male members of the society. Similarly, female doctors should be provided with a protective framework against sexual abuse and exploitation.

The prevailing situation, with sociocultural and economic factors, contributes into the practice of GBV. The unheard voices are so many which have not come to the forefront yet, but still alarming statistics reveal the urgent response mechanism to cater this problem. The government needs to provide social support and safety net packages to meet the basic food requirements alongside psychosocial support. An awareness campaign should be launched to sensitize masses about social adjustment and social harmony and to involve religious scholars, academicians, psychologists, and civil society in this combat.

Financial support

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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