Pandemics, economic instability, uncertainty, unrest are all risk factors for an increase in violence against women and children. The strategies to counter the exacerbated crisis needs a gender lens response, lessons learned from previous crisis, and most importantly appropriate and relevant activities, to tackle the unequal effect on women and girls.
Geeta Aiyer, Founder of DAWN, says it is critical now more than ever to take action and support grassroot organizations that are paying a pivotal role during this time. She has been supporting organizations such as Men Against Violence and Abuse, (MAVA), Mumbai and Shadhika, Uttar Pradesh, at the grassroots level to create cultural changes in attitudes that are at the root of the Gender Based Violence, (GBV).
Shadhika’s grassroot work is happening in Nagepur, Ganeshpur, and Benipur villages in Uttar Pradesh, where according to National Crime Record Bureau’s Crime in India Report 2017, crimes against women are the highest in the country. These programs sensitize the program constituents on the root causes of GBV, provide gender-based violence prevention training to boys and young men. Value is placed in the next generation of leaders within these communities to become change agents, empower them to take action, and share their success stories to foster replication in other communities.
With the world changing with COVID19, DAWNs partners, Shadhika and MAVA are focusing on a contingency plan to implement a virtual knowledge building with program constituents whether it is girls, women, young men and boys, and stakeholders. Virtual awareness campaigns, and WhatsApp knowledge building are being implemented as alternatives to the planned activities. Staff stays connected with community leaders such as panchayat and Law enforcement for monitoring incoming cases, and with other statewide NGO’s in the state.
MAVA’s work has shifted online and staff continues to engage discussions with youth and young men on Zoom calls and WhatsApp groups on healthy relationships and challenging toxic masculinity. The calls are engaging youth by educating them and intervening at an early stage in their lives so they can learn and grow and cite examples of positive role models from the community
The lockdown globally is mirroring the patriarchal and hierarchical structure that already exists. Many women are in ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers, violence is surging, more than doubling, women are afraid to reach out for help, with no support or services.
Though women play a big role in responding to crisis, they are the first responders, healthcare workers, caregivers, low paid, informal sector. They are the hardest hit, they are more exposed to the virus and to unequal gender roles. A loss of income makes it harder for them to escape the abuse.
Moving Forward! What are the solutions?
- Progress made in the gender equality especially gains made in women’s movement globally, with sexual and reproductive health and rights for women must be safeguarded.
- Global response to COVID-19, must be through gender lens to make sure that the unique needs of girls and women are addressed, all efforts and responses must include the positioning girls, women.
- Town Hall meetings and partnerships among NGO’s to work collaboratively on the problem.
- Targeted public service messages, awareness building, sensitization campaigns, and platforms are at the key to tackle this deep rooted and entrenched issue. A successful campaign called Bell Bajao calls on men to report domestic violence in the neighbor. More campaigns need to be in place during the pandemic.
- NGO’s need to amplify their efforts and publicize campaigns, The Uttar Pradesh police, in India launched an initiative in March 2020 titled “Suppress corona, not your voice” asking battered women to call a helpline number to enable women police officers to reach them following a complaint. This is a great example of addressing the crisis.
- Health care workers that are part of the pandemic response must be trained to respond to disclosures of domestic and sexual violence and be familiar with resources and referrals, having reproductive and sexual health service as being essential services.
- Virtual connections to the program constituents as are being done by DAWN supported organizations.
To know more about DAWN’s work go to www.dawnww.org