Why data will play a crucial role in fighting violence against women and children during COVID-19

With violence against women and children escalating during the pandemic, there is a need for relevant insights to build a focus agenda to combat these incidents and offer relevant support.
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While the world struggles to cope with COVID-19, another pandemic has been raging in homes across the world. The Shadow Pandemic is the term being used to describe the significant increase in domestic violence against women and children across the globe. 

While data from UN Women shows that calls to helplines reporting violence at the hands of an intimate partner increased five-fold in some countries during the pandemic, the National Commission for Women(NCW) in India said that it had received 5,000 complaints of domestic violence as of December 2020, a sharp increase from the 660 cases reported in July 2020.

The Shadow Pandemic denotes the sharp rise in incidents of domestic violence during COVID-19 (representational image)

The situation across the globe has become so severe that by September 2020, 48 countries (including India) had integrated prevention and response to violence against women and girls into COVID-19 response plans, and 121 countries had adopted measures to strengthen services for women survivors of violence during the global crisis.

In an interview with PTI, NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma attributed the increase in incidents of violence to factors such as economic insecurity, financial instability, and isolation among others, adding that the lockdown had distanced women from their support systems, which had further exacerbated the situation.

 

“The machinery under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act had not been identified as an essential service during the lockdown. Hence, protection officers and NGOs were not able to visit the households of victims, and police officers being at the frontline to tackle COVID-19 were overstretched to help victims effectively,” she said.

Several organisations across the country have been reaching out to offer support to women during the pandemic. The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Punjab reached out to 36,000 women during the pandemic as part of an awareness campaign that stressed the importance of speaking out against domestic violence. 

Members of SEWA were enlisted as master trainers to spread awareness about COVID, mental health, reproductive health, and domestic violence. Awareness was spread via door-to-door campaigns, by phone, WhatsApp, posters, and leaflets.

“After listening to the awareness information during these drives, many women came forward and shared their experience of domestic violence. It was seen that many of these women were victims of domestic abuse for years and had no idea about their rights and where to go. While giving awareness sessions, a trust was built, where women came out and spoke about it,” says Harsharan Kaur, State Coordinator, SEWA Punjab.   

When they opened up they were immediately referred to the “One Stop Centre”, a centre by the Ministry of Women & Child Development intended to support women affected by violence. 

“We also got in touch with the SHOs and the CDPOs wherever required to help these cases. A total of 32 cases were referred,” she adds.

By September 2020, 48 countries (including India) had integrated prevention and response to violence against women and girls into COVID-19 response plans, to combat the rising incidents of abuse

Disturbing numbers

A key aspect in the fight against the rising violence against women and children has been the availability of data. Data has been critical to providing key insights into the nature, magnitude, severity, and frequency of violence against women and children. 

According to the National Family Health Survey-5, which was released in December 2020, crimes against children were also a major area of concern for the Ministry of Child Development, with 13,244 child pornography, rape, and gang-rape complaints being lodged from March 1 till September 18, 2020. More than a quarter of the women surveyed in seven states said they had experienced domestic violence, according to data released in the first phase of the survey. In Karnataka, nearly every second woman surveyed reported facing domestic violence.

The NCW is reported to have registered 13,410 complaints of crimes against women between March – September 2020, of which 4,350 were domestic violence. Complaints peaked between March and May, with a third of the total complaints received filed in that quarter alone. 

The significance of data

So why is collecting and understanding all this data important? Data will offer better insights into the nature, extent, and frequency of violence against women and children. It will also help understand the consequences and long-term impact of this violence, whether the support offered was effective, and what can be done to prevent violence in the future, especially during emergency situations like a pandemic. 

Data will also be a valuable tool in developing policies to end violence against women and children. To develop evidence-based policies that work, not only in India but across the globe, there is a need to bridge the gap on reliable, comparable data where there is still little readily available data on several issues, including online violence against women and children.

During the ongoing fight against the pandemic, the investment in terms of time and resources (medical facilities, law and order, and charities) to fight against women has reduced significantly. This had only made the situation worse at a time when such incidents have escalated globally. With already limited capacities, a focussed approach will make all the difference. 

Data will also offer insights into how and why pandemics such as COVID-19 may result in an increase in violence against women and children. It can help identify risk factors; how services for survivors of violence are affected; and what new short and medium-term needs arise. 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said: “Even before the pandemic, violence against women was one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Since lockdown restrictions, domestic violence has multiplied, spreading across the world in a shadow pandemic. This is a critical time for action, from prioritising essential services like shelter and support for women survivors, to providing the economic support and stimulus packages needed for broader recovery.”

Guidelines for data collection

A key area to focus on, especially when collecting data of a sensitive nature, is to assess if there are any risks of harm to the subject and to see if the gathering of that data could compromise their safety in any way. Data collection should only be done if one can ensure complete privacy and confidentiality

During an emergency situation, it is important to first explore existing data resources and repositories, which can be used for further analysis, and insight gained for a similar situation can be used. This is especially important when data is being collected remotely when the woman is likely in an abusive relationship and confined at home with the perpetrator. Ensuring their safety should always be the top priority.

Edited by Megha Reddy

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