Countries around the globe have been suffering from the outbreak of coronavirus, caused by a newly discovered virus, since the start of 2020. It reportedly started in Wuhan City, China in the end of December, gradually spread across the world and was finally declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020.
Since it first spread from China, all nations globally made certain social distancing measures such as washing hands, wearing face masks, lockdown, quarantine at home, and more.
Ever since the stay-at-home (or lockdown) period started after the declaration of pandemic by WHO, a lot of workplaces, schools and public areas were closed to avoid massive crowds and close contact with one another. Daily routines and actions of people suddenly transformed into a different concept- people working from home and communicating via online tools and students taking online courses.
Stay-at-home period has been a very useful strategy for preventing the spread of the disease, and people have been following the government’s instructions for social distancing and hiding out at home as much as possible.
Staying at home has been the safest way to avoid the transmission of COVID-19, however, some people are encountering much worse experiences at home – domestic abuse.
Domestic violence involves physically, mentally, financially, emotionally and sexually abuse. The behaviour of domestic abusers comes with the purpose of taking control over one’s partner, boyfriend/ girlfriend or family member.
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”.
According to the United Nations, cases of domestic violence have increased by 20% during the lockdown period and WHO also stated a data that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.
So, what has led people to commit domestic abuse towards their beloved partners and family members at home? With the closing of workplaces, people do not feel financially secured anymore. The virus and lockdown have made them feel insecure and doubtful about their financial status and job security. It has also been stated that self-isolation and quarantine can have impacts on people’s psychological well-being.
The stress level in their living situations has increased so husbands are starting to vent out their anger and frustration on their wives and sometimes even children. Researches have shown that the level of anxiety and tension in households increases as people are living together in close proximity, along with unemployment, isolation and uncertainty about the future.
The actions of people committing domestic abuse can vary – the person may always be abusive and his actions become much worse during the lockdown or the actions of certain people change into aggressiveness as their daily social interactions have become restricted.
The consequences of domestic violence are not something to be considered as simple matters. It affects women, children, families and also the community. Victims of domestic violence can face several physical and mental diseases such as depression, sleep problems, hypertension, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), chronic diseases and many more.
Italy was the first country to have reported on when it started its lockdown in early March, followed by Spain, France and the UK later.
According to domestic charity violence Solace, during the period when the government first eased the lockdown in the UK in May, there was a 200% rise in complaint calls to their helplines than previous times. Solace is a women’s aid organisation based in the UK, supporting women and children in London to build safe, strong lives and to seek futures that are free from male abuse and violence.
Akhaya Women, a Myanmar-based initiative which is led by women for women, supports women to undergo a process of individual transformation- to question negative traditional beliefs about their own bodies and sexual being and to question social norms of masculinity. Akhaya has been helping to build a world where women are safe, peaceful and free from all forms of violence. It also stated that within two weeks after the lockdown, the number of complaints against domestic abuse has increased more than before.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) states that domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. Abusers controlling over their partners and sometimes even children- these issues have been existing in society for so long, ever since before the pandemic. The pandemic and the lockdown somehow highlighted the situation and people are becoming more aware of the domestic violence taking place inside the homes, both knowingly and unknowingly by outsiders.
Women are trapped inside their own homes with their abusers, with a lot of women not trying to reach out for help for various reasons- feeling ashamed or worrying that their abusive partners might find out that they are seeking for help.
In his message about domestic violence back in May, UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres said, “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest. In their own homes. We know lockdowns and quarantine are essential to suppressing COVID-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners. I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19.”
In an online conference entitled “Taking action to end domestic violence during pandemics”, organized by UNESCO on May 19, 2020, Saniye Gulser Corat, UNESCO’s Director for Gender Equality, declared that domestic violence is not only a women’s issue and a holistic approach to gender equality is vital to ensure a safe and empowered future for all women and girls.
During the conference, Humberto Carolo, Executive Director of the White Ribbon (Canada) also stated that men often have control over family lives by playing a dominant role at home and violent behaviours are on the rise during economic crises.
According to a video posted by BBC back in May, a woman told her experiences about domestic abuse at home to BBC. As stated in the video, the woman’s husband had been threatening her to beat her up or kill with a stick if she didn’t move out of the house. She eventually had to stay a night at her neighbour’s home and contact a domestic violence shelter to stay in later days.
During the lockdown period, some of the shelters are closed and some cannot resume their operations due to shortage of facilities.
According to a speech of Phumzille Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women on April 6, 2020, about 243 million women and girls (age 15-49) have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by their partners in the last 12 months. UN Women has been working with governments, civil society organisations, UN agencies and other institutions to support ending violence, increase awareness of the consequences of domestic violence, and help prevent domestic abuse around the globe.
Araddhya Mehtta, the Country Director of ActionAid Myanmar, stated that, with factories being shut down, there has been an inability for workers to get access to food, healthcare and basic essentials. Losing their livelihoods has not only many workers unable to get access to those, but is also putting women at greater risk of sexual and domestic violence.
ActionAid Myanmar is a global federation working for a world free from poverty and injustice. The organisation has been working closely with people living in poverty and exclusion, civil society organisations, social movements and supporters.
According to the organisation, they are already seeing increases in the number of women reporting incidence of gender-based violence through its support services. A telephone line, run by paralegals by ActionAid Myanmar, is ensuring that women have access to support and information during the lockdown and men are also participating in gender equality and helping to fight violence against women through a male role model project.
The transmission of the virus and the lockdown may end one day. However, domestic abuse and violence is still going to take place in the community for a certain amount of time. Thus, a lot of local and global organisations and community councils are finding ways to help support vulnerable women around the world and raising awareness to the increased rate of domestic abuse and violence around the globe.