New Delhi: COVID-19 pandemic, apart from being a health crisis also had other fallouts, one of the unpleasant outcomes was the rise in the cases of domestic violence against women during the lockdowns. As more countries reported increase in infection rates and lockdowns, domestic violence helplines and shelters across the world reported a spurt in calls for help. The United Nations report on domestic violence against women and girls also flagged an increase in reported cases of domestic violence during the pandemic and an increase in demand for emergency shelter in countries like Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
In India, the situation was no different. The National Commission for Women (NCW) received 5,297 domestic violence cases in 2020, compared with 2,960 in 2019. So far this year, the National Commission for Women has received 2,000 cases of crimes against women, of which a quarter were cases of domestic violence.
To know more on domestic violence against women and gender inequality when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination, Banega Swasth India team speaks with Susan Ferguson, UN Women Representative Of India.
Tagging this as a shadow pandemic, Ms Ferguson said,
The underbelly of the pandemic is this very issue of gender inequality and violence against women, which has really shot through the roof, in every country in the world, including India.
Highlighting the statistics shared by NCW, she added,
The statistics of National Commission for Women highlighted that the rates have doubled since the pandemic. So, it is very crucial that women have the services available to them to survive this kind of violence. It is important for them to have access to all the possible services at a time when we can’t really step outside from our homes. So, having the helpline is critical at a national level as that helpline can help women access other services from the comfort of their home.
Apart from having the helpline in place, Ms Ferguson said that information and education is equally important. She said,
On the other note, it is important for women to know what they are suffering from, they should know it is called domestic violence, it is not something that happens in a normal or unhappy marriage. For this to happen, government on national level needs to have some sort of campaigns that guide women on the same.
The Union and State governments have put in place a dedicated helpline ‘181’ for addressing all the complaints of women as a one stop centre. The National Commission for Women has also launched a special Whatsapp alert helpline ‘7217735372’ through which anyone can report the incidents of domestic violence immediately.
Talking about COVID-19 vaccination and the issue of gender inequality, wherein in India, 31 crore women have been vaccinated so far as opposed to 34 crore men, Ms Ferguson said,
Major reason behind this gender gap is associated with myths around the COVID-19 vaccine. Women think, if they will go and get themselves vaccinated, they will become sterile or it will affect their menstrual cycle – all this is not true. So, I think there is a lot of misinformation which is there in the community. One way in which we can tackle this is by providing right information directly to the women. They should know that nothing will happen to them even if they take the vaccine.
Highlighting some of the cultural barriers which are preventing the more women from getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Ms Ferguson added,
The other reason why women are not getting vaccinated as much as men is that many women don’t have access to digital technology so they cannot register themselves online. Also, it is hard enough for women to travel to vaccination center, as they depend on other people. Then there are families that prioritise, they want the men of the house to get vaccinated first and then women. All these are multi-pronged issues, each of these barriers can be tackled, but it needs the partnership with health centers, NGOs, government, whoever can come forward and help.
Susan Ferguson further said that access to safe sanitation and water is a basic human right, yet, women are the ones’ who suffer the most as they are denied this basic right. She added,
Because there are no facilities for girls and women in schools, many a times it becomes a barrier in their education. It highlights the need for the country to work on these aspects – we need to make sure that there are separate toilets for both girls and boys. We need to see that they are well lit, and the girls and women have access to sanitary pads.
Susan Ferguson added that this is very important if we want to keep girls in school and help build a better life for them. She added,
Often, parents don’t invest in girls as much as boys. They think, eventually she will get married and go off to their husband’s house, so why really bother. But this is what we really need to change.
Further talking about COVID-19 pandemic and it highlighting the need for leaving no one behind, Ms Ferguson added,
COVID-19 has given the world a terrible blow and it is really upto all of us and how can we contribute to save the world. We must all work together, it is only then we will be able to meet Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The role of private sector, government, individual – all are very important.
Highlighting the partnership of UN Women with Reckitt, Susan Ferguson signed off by saying,
Reckitt has a fantastic track record of working with a group of individuals who are left behind for example the manual scavengers. In our partnership with Reckitt, we will be working on retraining these women manual scavengers, who are doing the worst possible job currently. Through the programme, we will upskill their skills further so that they are able to get better jobs in water and sanitation sector, wherein they get good wages and can change their situation.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.