Gender-based violence witnessed an increase during the pandemic: Survey

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Breakthrough, a women’s rights organization, today released the findings of its study on ‘Gender Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic and Vaccine Hesitancy among Rural and Urban Populations.” The survey aimed at understanding the gendered impact of Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccine hesitancy among rural and urban populations in India. The findings come at a critical time when the country is witnessing a growing incidents of domestic violence and dowry-related harassment.

The national survey conducted online from the 4th of June to the 10th of June, 2021 covered states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, and Delhi, Assam, Rajasthan, Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal. The survey responses consisted of both male (30%) and female (70%) respondents from urban (72%) and rural (28%) areas.

Commenting on the survey findings, Sohini Bhattacharya, President and CEO, Breakthrough, said, ”The survey brings out important insights on gender-based violence and gender inequality that COVID-19 has exacerbated and amplified in India over the past one year. The data helps draw your attention to it and we firmly believe that the findings in the survey will spur relevant conversations that will lead to collective action and increased public awareness about violence against girls and women. As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we also need to ensure a safe and secure space for women and girls who are currently at the receiving end due to the prolonged lockdown, de-prioritisation of health needs and services, and indefinite school closures.”

The second wave of the pandemic further aggravated the situation with a particularly adverse impact on women and children across the country. The survey noted that the pandemic had led to an increase underage or early marriages, a sudden surge in gender-based violence and reduced leisure time for women and girls.

The key findings from the survey are as follows:

Impact of COVID 19 on Marriages

About 10% of the survey respondents mentioned instances of early or underage marriages of girls during the lockdown. The primary reasons cited included: getting the girl married during the lockdown demanded a smaller budget as families wanted to reduce their financial burden by marrying off their daughters before the legal age. The respondents also noted that in certain cases, the marriage agreements fell through as the bride’s family could not meet the dowry demands.

Gender-based violence rose during the lockdown

The survey respondents reported an increase in incidents of violence during COVID/lockdown. Majority of respondents reported that violence happened with women and girls both in the urban (78.1%) and rural (82.2%) areas. In the urban area, 15.6 % respondents said that men and boys were victims of violence while 78.5% of respondents reported that men and boys were the perpetrators of violence. The participants also reported an increase in incidents of domestic violence during lockdown.

61% survey respondents reported that leisure time for women and girls saw a major decline

During the lockdown there have been reports of increased household responsibilities for women and girls along with significantly reduced or no time for leisure. On the other hand, about 34% have mentioned that they have gotten some (or more) free time and rest after during lockdown due to travel time being cut or family members dividing household responsibilities. The economic fallout of the pandemic also led to loss of jobs for women. Almost half of the respondents (48%) mentioned that women have lost their jobs or have not received their wages/salaries due to which they were facing financial difficulties, making survival difficult for them and their family.

Lockdown impact on mental health

Around 68% of participants stated that the lockdown has affected the mental health of everyone. This largely stemmed from the increasing financial insecurities, rising fears around the pandemic and being restricted to the living rooms for a large part of the year. For women it was also due to increase in household responsibilities and further curbing of their freedom compared to the limited freedom they enjoyed before.

Different sources of information on COVID-19 and Vaccine

The behaviour and attitudes of people towards COVID-19 pandemic played an essential role in its spread and control. Nearly 76.9% respondents reported that COVID-19 tests were taking place in their area. However, over 16% of respondents said that COVID tests were not taking place in their area. Around 89% of respondents reported that COVID vaccinations were taking place in their area.

COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination challenges

In urban areas, 62.5% of the respondents said that they were not able to get slots for the vaccine/vaccine was not available while 20.8% reported that they didn’t have access to the correct information. The other challenges included lack of transportation facilities (10.4) and that the vaccination centres were far away, many didn’t know how to register for vaccination (6.3%), and others didn’t have a smartphone for registration (8.3%).

But the challenges in rural areas were different from what people in urban areas faced. Nearly (27.8% of the respondents said that they didn’t get slots for the vaccine/the vaccine was not available (27.8%), nearly 28% said they didn’t have access to the correct information, 22.8% said they didn’t know how to register for the vaccine via phone and 17.7% reported that the vaccination centre was far and there were no transportation facilities.

As the impact of the second wave of the pandemic gradually recedes, it is important to take proactive measures to avert a third wave and ensure the safety of vulnerable sections of society, especially, women and children.