Simi Mehta and Anshula Mehta

According to National Crime Bureau Records Data 2020, there is an over 100% increase in the incidences of gender-based violence from March 2020 to May 2020. Lockdown has restricted the mobility which has made the so-called “safety nests of women” a sphere of fear and anxiety. Keeping this in background, Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) in association with GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation organized a panel discussion on 
Addressing Gender-Based Violence: Ascertaining Actionable Solutions.

Gender-based Violence

Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI introduced the topic and said that domestic violence against women has increased many folds across the globe during the ongoing pandemic as well as India. The countries have been adopting many new methods and initiatives to reduce the rising cases.

Prof Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, Gender Impact Studies Centre, IMPRI; Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation stated that vulnerable, lack of resource, and un-freedom situation of women are the main causes of domestic violence against women. She highlighted six key pointers of the discussions:

  • central role of women post covid-19 period;
  • economic and financial empowerment of women leads to reduction of violence against women;
  • women’s autonomy and agency such as right to land and other resources;
  • failure of 2005 domestic violence law to protect the dignity of women;
  • recognition of women’s unpaid and domestic work, and
  • redistribution of care work among the household members

In the time of Covid-19, the violence against women as the main cause of frustration of men owing to his job losses and inability of women to address the household issues should not be the tolerated. It is the duty of the various stakeholders to protect women from any form of violence in the society. She viewed that government has not properly addressed the fundamentals of patriarchy and power relation within the household and the concept of head of household needs to be dissolved. The privileged given to men as head of house is no longer needed in today’s world. She also stated that financial assets of women and their earning should be recognized.

Ms Aya Matsuura, Gender Specialist, ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia in New Delhi stated that convention 190 has been introduced by the ILO last year in general conference of the ILO, which acknowledged violence and harassment against women in the world of work. This covers all forms of works and employees and urges national governments to adopt it. She also suggested that employers to extend protection to women against violence as new convention also covers travel to work and work from home, which has become new normal for employees.

She also stated that protection of women against cyberbullying and any other physical violence and verbal abuse such as beating, yelling etc. should not be tolerated and giving respect to each other in the families is equally important too. She emphasized on promoting the sharing the household responsibilities and investing in institutional mechanisms and technology-driven solution to reduce the care work. She also said that most of the South Asian countries have laws but lack human resource for better implementation.

Child Care economy should generate jobs and should not be recognized as unpaid care jobs. The investment in the care economy and making it an economic sector is need of the hour. Home is the new workplace in the current scenario; hence investment in care economy is essential.  She stated that instead of adding problems to the victims by displacing them from their homes, it is important to put the abusers behind bars and let the victims have shelter as evident in Australia.

Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International; Mentor, IMPRI discussed various ground stories and cited a case of a girl beaten by her father and she didn’t even want to complain to authorities because of the fear her father might give her after complaint. He also mentioned nothing can be justified against violence against women, and it is the right of the victims to complain. He suggested that with a robust system we can intervene immediately if one needs any assistance or help. He stated that police are considered as a threat for women when they go for the complaint.  He claimed that the prestige of the family is of utmost importance in a patriarchal society and needs to be changed.

Ms Poonam Kathuria, Director, Society for Women’s Action and Training Initiative (SWATI) presented the findings of a study by interviewing 3000 women across several states in the India. She argued that frequency of violence has gone up during lockdown and every 10 minutes a call was received by the police helpline number.   

She stated that to combat domestic violence mobile phone allowances should be given to the helpline staff, which can provide the tele-counselling to the victims. According to Ms Kathuria, we can engage with women collective and gram panchayats in rural areas to reach the victims. Ms Kathuria stated that survey finding shows hospital-based facilities are the major help in identifying the victims in some states such as Bihar, Gujarat and Mumbai.

Further, she has suggested that the Prime Minister should address this issue in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’. She also suggested that the cases in courts should be expedited and police protection should be given to victims. Taskforces can be set up at the National, State and District level for monitoring the services. Ending on the positive note, she thanked the police forces and front-line health workers working tirelessly and selflessly in the uncertain times. Recognising the women in rural who are title as Mahila Kisani in some places and where women’s work should be appreciated and recognised..

Dr Sanghamitra Dhar, Consultant, Ending Violence against Women Unit, UN Women stated that domestic violence is not a new phenomenon. She said that the increase in number of reporting cases of domestic violence has gone up covid-19 lockdown period.  Dr Dhar stated that the violence cases and implementation of laws differ across the regions in India.   She elaborated that to reduce the cases of violence we have to consider all aspects of life and only the financial up-liftmen would be not enough, which is of course one of the key indicator.

Ms Urvashi Prasad, Public Policy Specialist, Office of Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog stated that there is a need for dynamic database with central monitoring system, which can regularly monitor the actions of all the states. This will make policies more responsive and highlighted how legislations are not backed by adequate human resource for their implementation.

Ms Prasad expressed that cyber space harassment which is new type of bullying and needs to be addressed. The police and other stakeholders should be trained how to tackle these new emerging threats. She also expressed her concern about the increasing mental health problem among young women and emphasized that there is need to bring systematic linkages between legal and health system. She said the patriarchal system affects men too and suggests efforts to be made to change the mindset of people.

Prof Balwant Singh Mehta, Research Director, IMPRI and Fellow, IHD concluded the discussion by highlighting key takeaways from the discussion:  women’s central role, autonomy & agency, financial & economic empowerment, effective implementation of laws, recognition of care & domestic work and sharing household’s responsibilities are the most important issues relate to the curve the domestic violence cases.

He said that the changing workplaces and nature of work such as work from home and emerging gig economy are providing many new economic opportunities to women but also raising concern over increasing workload and domestic violence.

He also stated that contextualisation of laws and regulations, which differ across geography, class and caste.  Prof Mehta also said that dynamic dashboard and regular updated data is need of the hours for proper policy formulation, monitoring and implementation of laws relate to gender violence. He also suggested that the families and schools can play an active role in reduction of gender based violence by proper education to the children specifically boys.   Finally, he thanked all the panelists for participating in this important discussion, and also assures, we will continue to hold such policy debates and discussions on these important issues also in the future.

Acknowledgements: Apurva Chavhan is a research intern at IMPRI and is pursuing Masters in Economics from Gokhlae Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE), Pune

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Picture Courtesy: EPW