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Trapped At Home Due To Coronavirus, What Do Women In A Domestic Violence Situation Do?

Posted: March 20, 2020

With the current lockdown, everyone is at home. How and where do women trapped at home and in a violent household find their safe spaces?

As COVID-19 continues to raise its ugly head across India, I am starting to worry about how this will uniquely and disproportionately affect women.

The main reasons that I am worried about women, apart from being a woman myself, are:

i) Women make up 83.4% of the front line healthcare force i.e. nurses
ii) Women are 84% of caregivers
iii) 31% of women have experienced spousal violence

Women in healthcare

Healthcare workers are at the forefront of providing care and respite to those who are quarantined and have tested positive. According to a 2018 WHO report, 83.4% of the nursing force in India is women. They are the ones who are at the most risk of contracting the virus.

Given that there is no safe vaccine that has been developed, the only measure to protect themselves remain masks and safe hygiene practices. There is a lack of pre-exposure prophylaxis and in most hospitals, it’s business as usual.

In China, at least 3,300 health-care workers have gotten the virus and 13 have died, according to Chinese health authorities. Even if the virus doesn’t affect the healthcare providers, it is easy to carry this virus home to young children and the elderly.

Women as caregivers

Research by Carers Worldwide shows that women in India and Nepal shoulder 84% of the caregiving burden. As the government announces a guideline asking those above 60 years of age and under 10 years of age to stay indoors and not leave the house, the burden on women can only be expected to go up. If you add the men in their productive ages to be working from home, I can only imagine how many times a woman in the house may be asked to function as the coffee vending machine except with table service.

The internet right now is flush with articles on how to entertain your child who is at home. Even Ivanka Trump is posting pictures of how to spend quality family time together. Very few, if any, articles of such nature seem to be targeting fathers. (On a similar note but maybe unrelated, is there something called a daddy blogger?)

Women in toxic households

While talking to women in violent households, I used to ask women to plan their activities around the time that they were alone or the abuser was away from home. With everyone being home quarantined, I am afraid the pressure on women to act per the needs of the toxic person with no time or space to breathe might be detrimental to the mental health of the woman. This toxic person might be a father, husband, brother or any other member within the house.

Several studies have shown that domestic violence increases in times of economic hardship. In the Hubei province of China, cases of domestic violence at the local police tripled in February after the quarantine in January. What is going to happen to women who are stuck in such situations? Do women have the option of going to a shelter?

Some of the ways that the panic of COVID might be used against you:

  1. Keeping hand sanitizers/hygiene products away
  2. Restricting access to children/pets/people you care about citing transmission
  3. Share misinformation to ensure you follow their rules
  4. Refuse to take you to get tested despite showing symptoms
  5. Use the information to further isolate and keep you away from your safe people and places.

What can you do if you are in a violent situation and in quarantine?

Create / Update your safety plan

A safety plan is a personal, practical plan of how to take care of yourself, emotionally and physically in a toxic environment. List down out the places within the house and community you could escape to and from the violence. List down the people you could call for help – include family, friends as well as formal agencies such as the police.

Practice self-care, however limited

Do things you like even if it is for a short time. You might not be able to go for a walk outside but you might be able to listen to your favorite song or have a short chat with a friend.

Reach out for help

Your life is important. Remember the police are still working. Call 100/103/1091 for help.

At a time like this, when we believe that social distancing is the answer to combat the spread of disease, we must remember that a lot of vulnerable women depend on the community to stay alive. While we devise strategies to prevent and address a public health crisis, we must recognise that violence against women is and has been a public health issue!

Image source: a still from the film English Vinglish

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Rashi Vidyasagar is a criminologist, and Director, The Alternative Story

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