Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal
Within the umbrella term of gender equality, gender-based violence has been a prevalent issue with far-reaching consequences, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first four phases of the COVID-19-related lockdown, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period in the last 10 years. But even this unusual spurt is only the tip of the iceberg as 86% women who experience domestic violence do not seek help in India.
Given the context of rising reported cases of violence and the gendered impact of COVID-19, the Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC) at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi hosted The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps talk on the topic, Gender-Based Violence Interventions: Impact and Way Forward on March 24, 2021.
The moderator, Ms Anshula Mehta, Assistant Director, IMPRI welcomed the speaker for the session, Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, Program Director, Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children and Project TARA at SNEHA (Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action) and the chair Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Ms Poonam Kathuria, Director, Society for Women’s Action and Training Initiative- SWATI.
Prof Vibhuti Patel set the tone for the session by acknowledging that, according to the United Nations Women, gender-based violence has emerged as a shadow pandemic. The degree of the same has deterioratedduring the COVID-19 pandemic, as evidenced by the latest National Crime Records Bureau data, which states an increase in gender-based violence to 7.3 percent over a period of just one year.
There are two concerns in case of violation of women’s rights – prevention and rehabilitation. Mitigation of the same is achieved through helpline numbers, a one-stop crisis centre, online gender sensitization programs and counselling. She iterated the importance of intervention, documentation, research and evidence-based policy intervention for model replication.
The following is a list of definitions shared by Dr Nayreen Daruwalla to buttress the discussion:
- Gender-based violence: It is a broad term for violence on account of gender. It has great practical relevance as it lies at the intersection of caste, creed and socioeconomic status.
- Violence against women and girls: It is the physical, mental or sexual violence or any sort of threat specific to women and girls. Under this, there are three categories:
- Intimate partner violence: As the name suggests, it is the violence or threat through a partner or ex-partner, including physical, psychological, sexual coercion and more recently, controlling behaviour.
- Domestic violence: It includes violence by any family member, including an intimate partner. It could be emotional, physical, financial, psychological and sexual violence or threat.
- Sexual violence: It includes violence by any person, regardless of their relationship with the victim. It includes any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act or other act directed towards a person’s sexuality using coercion.
The grim of the situation
Right from the Constitution of India to the more recent United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, these documents have set out objectives of equal status and opportunities for both men and women, but the reality on the ground remains far from it. One of the biggest deterrents to equality is gender-based violence, with Dr Daruwalla calling the latter a ‘public health disaster’ globally.
To support this statement, Dr Daruwalla referred to the global map of regional prevalence rates of intimate partner violence by the World Health Organization, 2013. The African, Mediterranean and South-East Asian regions stood at 37 percent, on average. She highlighted the fact that these are essentially middle- and low-income countries. This, however, does not imply that the high-income countries are well-positioned; they stood in the range of 23.2-29.8 percent. This is lower than the former but still substantial. Worldwide, 30 percent of women have faced physical and sexual intimate partner violence during their lives. In South Asia itself, the data for the same is 42 percent.
In the case of domestic violence in India, the physical, emotional and sexual facets accounted for 29 percent, 22 percent and 7 percent respectively for the year 2020. The nationwide lockdown only worsened the extent and depth of domestic violence, with the victims being enclosed with their perpetrators and many being emotionally violated and deprived. Disclosure to support services was a negligible 2 percent owing to concerns about family honour, children and lack of resources in the hands of women, among other factors.
Global gender-based violence intervention
Interventions have been divided into primary, secondary and tertiary interventions. The Lancet Commission, 2014, aimed at categorising global interventions into the following categories:
- Promising: Community-based intervention primarily looks at educating and enabling communities to respond in case of violence. It has been the most effective program globally. Parenting programs to educate parents about attitudes and discipline, protection orders and shelters, while promising, lack sufficient evidence. Shelters and counselling centres require adequate human resources and funding, both of which are difficult to upscale.
- Conflicting: Bystander intervention and perpetrator programs look fascinating but demand a huge part of the counsellor’s time to bring about a significant change in one perpetrator. This can be a complicated practice if applied nationally or globally.
- Ineffective: Routine screening and mandatory reporting have been termed ineffective because it is difficult to identify a victim in hospitals and public health care settings and only adds to the paperwork. However, non-routine screening may help in identifying and bringing forward consequences and solutions, there is no data to prove it yet.
- Not measured: Police and security personnel intervention has not been in focus globally, but SNEHA believes in its effect on behaviour and discipline changes. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when processes had to be shifted online, police acted as the sole ground support.
For an intervention to have its desired consequences, organisations must work at the individual, interpersonal, organizational, community and public policy levels. This is also known as the socio-ecological model.
Interventions at SNEHA
The organisation follows the above-mentioned model roughly by working at three levels- primary prevention level or community-based intervention involving campaigns and workshops, counselling centres for identification, first response, mental health assessment, intervention with family, referral to shelters, child welfare committees and institutional level including police, public health hospitals and district legal aid services. Secondary prevention is equally important as primary prevention.
In case of violence, the first point of contact for women is a public hospital, whether due to injuries or on the pretext of treatment. In such a scenario, the healthcare workers’ response is guided by a set of protocols which are to listen, enquire, validate and enhance safety and support for the referral. SNEHA trains the workers and police personnel to enhance their capacity.
They also run a one-stop centre at KEM Hospital, which provides counselling, shelter and legal services and police and medical intervention. In future, the organisation would like to see the community’s no-tolerance attitude and vigilant response to gender-based violence. Solutions from communities who understand the context are more reasonable and sustainable.
Tools for Prevention of Gender-based Violence
Choosing indicators for evaluation and their measurements is a complex task. Even after that, tangible outcomes are not guaranteed, violence can recur.
Under the 85 PVWC randomized controlled trials that took place globally, 66 were in the North and only 19 in the South, even when the latter requires more attention. Most of them have been in Africa, the time frame of the studies has been less than sufficient, the strategies to identify multiple forms of violence were weak and self-reporting unreliable.
SNEHA is currently undertaking cluster randomised controlled trials on the reduction of domestic and intimate partner violence. The program is of 3 years, excluding the 1.5 years of baseline and 1.5 years of the end line. They have created 48 clusters in Mumbai, each cluster having 500 households. Among them, 24 are controlled and the other 24 are intervention group. In the intervention group, community mobilisation activities are carried out but not in a controlled group; where, for ethical reasons, only counselling intervention is introduced.
One tool in preventing gender-based violence is the social norms. Under this, men and women are educated about norms, changes in behaviour and attitude are noted and then implemented in the community. The social norms are essentially of two types – injunctive, where everyone in the community believes that the action is wrong and descriptive, where everyone believes that it is wrong, but in case of non-compliance, there is no objection. The mismatch between beliefs on topics ranging from education, mobility to premarital relations and sex can be used advantageously in the intervention.
Additionally, the youth of the community, who have been exposed to the norms but there is leeway to mould these perceptions, can be tapped to bring noticeable and sustainable changes in the society.
Ms Poonam Kathuria said from her experience that most one-stop crisis centres are located within a hospital but lack of coordination with the departments of the same makes the process of referral weak.
Community interventions have their limitations; the focus then ultimately turns to the state for large scale and backed by policy intervention. Structures need to be in place for effective policymaking and response delivery, the foundation of which has to be evidenced by data.
She noted that the National Family Health Survey does not collect data on violence by natal family; otherwise, there is an expected continuum of violence. To this, Prof Patel countered that they mainly go under-reported. She furthered highlighted the limited capacity of helpline centres, sex-selective abortions, absence of contraception, non-registration of FIRs, all of which the data is not available.
Gender-responsive budgeting cans seriously improve the conditions of a one-stop centre. Presently, the allocated sum is not being adequately utilized by state governments.
Questions raised from the audience brought to light the fact that emotional violence is seen as a cultural idiosyncrasy. It is not seen as a violation, hence making it difficult to understand and identify. Another states that there are additional safety considerations involved in conducting trials to not put the woman at risk by asking questions that could worsen her situation.
The system has been involved in fighting the pandemic in such a way that concerns of gender-based violence have been put on the back burner. There is a need for civil society organizations to collectively generate data and push for interventions and strict protocols regarding the reporting system.
Acknowledgement: Mahima Kapoor is a Research Intern at IMPRI