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The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women in India

What is the Shadow Pandemic?

While the COVID-19 pandemic has left most of the world wishing for normalcy, it has also exposed the reality of the disturbing hardships faced by marginalized and vulnerable communities. According to the United Nations, India has seen a sharp increase in violence against women and girls since the lockdown began in March, which has been labeled the Shadow Pandemic.

What are the reasons behind the Shadow Pandemic?

This uptick in violence can be attributed to a number of factors connected to the pandemic, including limited mobility, less access to outreach programs and increased economic burdens. Homes with lower incomes and less access to food tend to have higher rates of gender-based violence. According to the World Food Programme, the number of gender-based violence cases “more than doubled during the pandemic,” and this figure is especially horrific considering a huge portion of these cases go unreported.

With lockdowns forcing the population to stay home, women with unsafe housing situations may be forced into a confined space with their abuser for long periods of time. In addition, the lockdown makes it more difficult for women to go out and receive help and support.

Is this issue only affecting India?

This issue is not unique to India. All around the world, confinement in addition to health and economic strains have led to an overall increase in domestic violence. However, domestic violence rates are especially high in countries that have more gender inequality overall. That India has a long way to go in terms of gender equality is an understatement, as the World Economic Forum ranked India 101 out of 136 in terms of gender disparity. 

According to The National Family Health Survey, one in three women in India suffers from domestic violence. There have been programs offered to help women who are victims of abuse, such as the Centre for Social Research, which receives a high number of calls from those who have suffered from domestic violence.

Other crises such as the Ebola outbreak or natural disasters have also exacerbated domestic violence rates. Oftentimes, issues such as gender-based violence remain underreported and largely ignored by wider society as other issues take over the news cycle.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic been affecting women in other parts of the county?

All around the world, women have been seeing the worst effects of the pandemic firsthand. In fact, CNN recently reported that the US lost 140,000 jobs last month, all held by American women. In addition, the public health crisis seems to have hit women of color the hardest. This may be because of a number of factors, including the gender wage gap and the fact that women hold less secure jobs. According to the UN, women also have “less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households”. 

In order to lower the alarming rates of gender-based violence, this issue must accumulate awareness from all over the world. We must amplify voices that advocate for the world’s most vulnerable sector of the population. Governments need to offer more support to women during this time, but they will not unless enough people speak up about the issue.

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