Lockdown and the surge in domestic violence

Popular singer and songwriter Samriddhi Rai tweeted this at 4:05 in the morning of Thursday March 26. With the surge in COVID-19 cases around the world, there is evidence of a global spike in domestic violence as well. Five days into the nationwide lockdown, Nepal has not been spared.

Many women now find themselves forced to be confined and isolated with domestic abusers. China, which has enforced the most prolonged quarantines so far, saw official figures for domestic violence cases triple in February. The integral idea of social distancing, which is one of the best strategies to combat the virus, direct exposes women to domestic violence. 

Although there may not be a big increase in number of new cases of abuse because of COVID-19, the existing cases can turn more extreme since the abuser and the victim cannot avoid anymore being in the same space by going to work or staying at a friend’s place. 

It becomes more difficult because victims are not able to receive proper resources and support. Health care professionals are focused on aiding the coronavirus patients and catering to the overload in hospitals, so those facing violence in the home are unable to reach out and seek medical help or therapy. 

Even non-profits are finding it difficult to receive the call for help as the world is engulfed in the pandemic. The CEO of YWCA USA Alejandra Y Castillo in a video interview with Nowthis Her said that the number of COVID-19 related domestic violence cases has already overwhelmed the system. Non-profits will also find it difficult to fundraise and sustain themselves because of the economic recession.  

COVID-19 has also brought job uncertainty for many women as the unemployment rate rises in Nepal and elsewhere. Many women, who had to struggle to get the jobs they had are now going to lose them

Finding a job is much tougher for women than it is for men and many women are more vulnerable to losing these jobs, and will find it hard to get back into the workforce. Once her movement is restricted, a woman finds herself more dependent and obliged to stay in an abusive relationship to sustain her family. 

Abusive relationships are a form of control and power which is gained by keeping the victim in the relationship because of the children, or economic status. In Nepal, there was already a growing epidemic of violence against women before the coronavirus scare. In fact, domestic violence is the biggest source of injury for women in Nepal with half the women in a recent survey saying they had experience some form of violence.

In Nepal, where women have just started to become independent and entered a male-dominated workforce with jobs like driving or foreign employment, the  COVID-19 scare could take away these new opportunities and force them back into the home arena.  

Nepal’s weeklong nationwide lockdown that is to end on 31 March is likely to be extended by at least another two weeks. It is therefore vital for victims of domestic abuse to seek help now when the systems have not been overwhelmed. 

Public health experts say there are more infected people than the three diagnosed in Nepal so far, and the number may well increase in the coming week forcing officials to enforce the lockdown even more strictly.

This could increase the number of domestic violence cases as well. There are 24/7 helplines like the Khabar Garaun 1145 and online support networks, but more are needed in the provinces. online support networks. Organisations like RUWON (Rural Women’s Network Nepal) need support. 

But perhaps the most immediate help can be from people who can support and check up on neighbours. If there is a known case of domestic violence in the neighborhood, the witness is advised to visit the family and provide support by talking, or giving information about the helplines. The coronavirus may have limited our movement, but it does not have to limit our interactions.  

Khabar Garaun: dial 1145