The Covid-19 pandemic not only affects the physical health of people but also other aspects of their social life – ultimately resulting in mental health issues and domestic violence.
A local human rights organisation named "Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF)" estimated that around 11,323 women and 2,171 children have experienced domestic violence in Bangladesh amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the previous month, with many having no prior encounter earlier on as reported by The Business Standard.
The latest spike in domestic violence cases in Bangladesh not only outrages the feminist, but also the general public concerned with human safety with no gender bias. Moreover, the surge also revealed a direct or indirect correlation existent between domestic violence and Covid-19, where the latter crippled economic activities as a result of the lockdown and social distancing policies.
This delineates the negative effects of the Covid-19 with respect to increasing domestic violence, especially in a patriarchal society like Bangladesh.
Domestic violence against women has been declared as a 'public health problem' by international statutory authorities such as the World Health Organization. Growing domestic violence increases the trauma of women and consequently exposes the victims to emotional stress, sexual disorder, depression; and at worst, suicide when the mental health pressure resulting from the violence becomes grossly unbearable.
The social distancing and partial/full lockdown measures declared by the governments in different countries have forced people to remain at home for safety and consequently aggravated domestic violence particularly against women during this pandemic. Although, the surge in cases of domestic violence may be attributed to Covid-19, other justifications as to why such cases keep increasing exist.
A couple of economic and social factors increase susceptibility to domestic violence. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences had rendered many people jobless and subsequently increased the unemployment rate. This has created a ripple effect of mental health issues (e.g. anxiety, fear, stress, etc.), which has metamorphosed to domestic violence.
Financial stress and scarcity of community resources owing to limited economic activities may induce an abusive relationship. Additionally, consequential alcohol consumption or narcotics abuse may also trigger domestic violence against women during the pandemic.
Social distancing may also be another contributing factor to domestic violence. As an instance, married couples have been unable to associate with friends and relatives and engage in outdoor activities in recent months, increasing conflicts between them or with other family members; and subsequently an increase in the rate of divorces.
Taking China as an example, a rapid increase in divorce rate was observed after the lockdown that was imposed to flatten the curve of Covid-19 was eased.
Overall, it can be concluded that the rapid growth in domestic violence is due to unemployment, social distancing, drug abuse, and other socio-economic factors. Nonetheless, women experiencing domestic violence in this pandemic also find it difficult to file reports or get support from appropriate parties due to the lockdown.
Hence, experts consider this isolation period as a motivating factor for many perpetrators of such crime, as they tend to be most likely to evade prosecution. Notwithstanding, various initiatives should be earnestly considered in order to mitigate this rise in domestic violence.
We believe that the role of electronic media is very significant in increasing public awareness about domestic violence. Availability of information on women's rights, forms of domestic violence, and its prevention would enable potential victims to be at less risk of abuse.
Since Bangladesh is endowed with numerous electronic media, this channel should be utilised in combating domestic violence. Although rules and laws exist against perpetrators of domestic violence, many people remain unconscious of its consequences.
Hence, with the aid of electronic media such as the television channel, more people will be enlightened on the implications of perpetrating such crime. Moreover, social media (e.g. Facebook) could also be used as a platform to disseminate domestic violence related information to the masses.
These approaches have proved to be successful in the past in preventing several crimes in many countries including Bangladesh. By doing so, it would in the least remind potential offenders of possible repercussions and may eventually discourage them from committing the disgraceful act.
In addition to that, economic resources should be made available for the needy and helpless, as it is the prime reason for mental health issues and domestic violence. This includes providing direct economic benefits to vulnerable groups, particularly those who lost their jobs recently due to the lockdown.
Disbursement of financial support during the pandemic may substantially reduce mental stress and its proportionate effects on domestic violence. Nonetheless, mental health assistance should also be offered to the needy to control violence, as it is often argued that a mental health crisis is a precursor to every criminal activity.
Moreover, some of the following guidelines by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) could also be adopted to protect women, children, and adolescents from the domestic violence- i) incorporation of the gender perspective in the agenda of Covid-19 response taskforce; ii) availability of alternative and emergency response channel for vulnerable victims of domestic violence; iii) consolidation of security agents' capacity for prompt justice against offenders; iv) availability of sexual and reproductive service along with comprehensive sex education; and v) provision of social protection for women through local and state-level legislation.
Unfortunately, the potential victims of domestic violence are confronted with a dilemma; stay at home and encounter domestic violence, or leave the home and risk getting infected with the virus. Hence, the respective parties should ensure that staying home remain a safer option as it is supposed to be while formulating policies.
In the concluding remarks, we would also encourage readers to take part in mitigating domestic violence by reporting any suspicious activities to the relevant authorities. This would not only stop the violence but also save many lives.
*Taimia Binte Arif and Md Shahin Islam are currently pursuing master's degree in Sociology Discipline, Social Science School, Khulna University, Bangladesh.
Dr Md Aslam Mia is a senior lecturer at the School of Management, UniversitiSains Malaysia (USM), Pulau Pinang, Malaysia.