The unattended victims of lockdown

Amidst the global lockdown when the governments are focussing on health care, and a shattering economy, when the authorities are ensuring social distancing and trying to break the chain of covid19 infection spread, we have completely undermined the consequences of covid19 on women. Among all the discussions and deliberations regarding the measures taken by the authorities, we have resisted to talk about the most vulnerable group -women!!!

The current pandemic has brought to forefront the wide gap of injustice and inequality. It has not just remained a health or economic emergency but it has taken the face of moral crisis where those who are already excluded are further marginalized and exposed to excessive dangers. So, there is an immense need to shift our focus on the issues concerning the women in covid crisis.

The secondary impact of the outbreak of covid19 has affected the women and girls with the increased duties and responsibilities towards their family members especially the women from marginalized communities and with disabilities. Here are some areas where women are in need of protection in current crisis:

Firstly, while talking about the impact of corona virus on women folk we can’t resist speaking about the gender based violence suffered by them at their homes. Quarantine measures imposed as response to covid19 are putting girls at high risk of violence in homes and cutting them from essential services and social networks. In the families suffering the economic stress the position of children and particularly girls is prone to exploitation. Experience shows that domestic violence and gender based violence increases during crisis and disasters. It has happened during E BOLA (2014-2016) and ZIKA (2015-16) and it appears to be happening now. Under stay-at-home measures, women and children who live with violent and controlling men are exposed to sexual abuses, we cannot deny such abuses occurring in the transient camps created during covid crises in different countries. We must ensure that quarantine measures should be accompanied by support for affected households and should stress over creating women’s shelters and other forms of assistance required. Government and civil society groups must provide resources like emergency housing and telephone helplines.

Domestic violence cases in India are on the rise during lockdown. Recent data released by NALSA (National legal services authority) suggests that nationwide lockdown has led to the rapid increase in domestic violence. The data which is characterised according to cases in different states suggests that Uttarakhand recorded the highest number of domestic violence cases in last 2 months of lockdown. Haryana ranks on number two and national capital of Delhi on number three. The report by NALSA documents cases from start of lockdown till May 15 was collected through 28 State legal services and some shocking numbers were revealed in the report which mentioned that total of 144 cases of domestic violence were reported in Uttarakhand, from Haryana 79 cases, and 69 cases were surfaced from Delhi.

In Telangana in April 9% of total cases registered were of domestic violence, official figures reveal that 21% increase in domestic violence cases in State of Punjab, with 700 cases of domestic violence alone. The number of cases has risen from 4,709 to 5,695 since March, with domestic violence cases going up from 3,287 to 3,993 during lockdown period. The West Bengal women’s commission has also reported 70 cases of domestic violence during lockdown in West Bengal.

Secondly, during the epidemics excessive burden is faced by health care services, these units are diverted from their routine services which reduces the access of women to these health care services. Keeping in view the strength of the women than men, they often require medical services more presseingly, especially the sexual and reproductive health services as well as maternal and child health services. Challenges faced to access these sexual and reproductive health care services including contraception, safe abortion etc., will put the lives of women in danger. Union Territory of J&K, till May 19 reported 25 pregnant women as corona positive and many of them had made visits to hospitals making them prone to contamination and subsequent spread of virus. Recently, on 3rd June, the family of an expected mother alleged negligence by hospital staff at Covid dedicated hospital resulting the delivery of baby outside the hospital. Women also account for majority of world’s older population particularly those over 80 yrs and thus majority of potential patients, yet they tend to have less access to health services.

Thirdly, the spread of covid19 has affected the economic wellbeing of a women. Economic challenges have posed great threat to women’s business activity and exposed them to increased risk of exploitation. Women facing severe economic shocks are more exposed to the risks of economic survival. Moreover, women as single parents will be hit harder by economic downfall, so measures need to be taken for their economic empowerment.

Fourthly, after talking about the women as the worst sufferers in the current pandemic, we should not forget the role played by women as doctors and para medicos in covid19. They  have worked selflessly to ensure the safety of the lives of people, where innumerable doctors leaving their homes have held on to their duties and many of them have even tested positive for the infection. Majority of those on front lines of the pandemic are women, because women make 70% of all health care  and social services staff globally, so they urgently need to be empowered. Many of these women are working without salaries. In India, the women at forefront of battling the covid19 are ANMs Anganwadi and ASHA workers. As part of corona warriors, they move around in fields risking their lives visiting households both in urban and rural areas carrying out health checks.

According to the new joint report “justice for women amidst covid19” released by UN WOMEN, IDLO, UNDP, UNODC, covid19 pandemic escalates threat to women’s access to justice. The report underlines the need to explore more sustainable ways of justice delivery e.g, optimising interim orders to prevent rights violations. It also suggests for innovative parliamentary business to be perused to ensure women and girls affected by discriminatory laws are fully protected.

Global lockdown has also locked down girl’s autonomy, reinforcing the attitudes and practices that regard girls as inferior and hold them back. We have to keep in mind that women and girls are among those who suffer most during emergencies and it has to be ensured that their needs are addressed.

Mehnoor Raja is  Advocate J&K High Court