Speaking at a digital dialogue, “Addressing Sexual and Gender-based Violence in the Post COVID World”, organised by Gujarat National Law University (GNLU), Sharma said, “While earlier we would record 300 complaints of online harassment, this shot up to 1,500 post the Covid-19 pandemic.”
She added that following the work from home culture induced by the lockdown, the instances of online harassment have increased significantly in the absence of “etiquettes of online working”.
“Online abuse has continued even after lockdown in the lack of designated working hours as meetings were being conducted at night. Women are suffering online harassment since there are no defined ethics or no etiquettes of online working like what to wear, the gestures we make,” she said adding that women were fighting a double battle of not only pandemic but also domestic violence along with other forms of gender-based violence.
Sharma further said that while number of complaints on the NCW helpline was increasing during the lockdown, the number of complaints with police authorities was decreasing. She attributed this to the “apathy on the part of the police”.
“During the lockdown, the police were overworked and helping the victims of domestic violence was not a priority for the police, then. She cited the example of how a bleeding victim of domestic violence who approached the police station for help was turned away as she was not wearing a mask,” she said while citing a case.
Catherine, a counsellor with Doctors without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organisation, said that the victims of domestic violence faced a two-fold problem during the lockdown. “One was that of the accessibility to technology. Then, even when the victim obtained access to a mobile phone, she was not able to communicate her problem because of the proximity to the perpetrators of abuse,” she said.
Reena Tete an independent consultant, women and child rights said that, on the policy front, the biggest problem was non-availability of disaggregated data.
“Even today, disaggregated data of the victims of the pandemic is not available in the public domain. It is difficult to know the numbers of men, women, children and how many of them were from the marginalized section. Such disaggregated data is necessary to know the extent of marginalization so that appropriate policy responses can be formulated,” she said.
She added that another problem during pandemic is that anganwadi and Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers were diverted to other duties, mainly the data collection. “This was at the cost of pre and post-natal care of pregnant women. She said that non-availability of contraceptives and medical assistance gave rise to unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions,” she added.
Dr Asha Verma, assistant professor of Law and head of the GNLU Centre for Women and Child Rights, who moderated the session, stated that due to significant increase in domestic violence it is also referred to as a shadow pandemic.
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