Among the many issues aggravating the covid-19 pandemic has been the rise in violence against women reported the world over. Reports of domestic violence increased by 30% in France, over 50% in certain US states and tripling in China’s Hubei province, for instance.
In Pakistan, violence against women has been one of the goriest manifestations of human rights abuse. And as a result, the covid-19 lockdowns have seen its aggravation.
The so-called honour killings have persisted across the country, and even a global pandemic couldn’t cause a reduction. During the first month of the covid-19 lockdown in Pakistan, in Swat alone eight women lost their lives over ‘honour’.
According to the Barikot police, six of the women had been killed by their husbands, while two took their own lives. The police additionally reported attempted suicides as well, as they look to crack down on the culprits, and prevent further violence against women.
“The police took timely action… and filed report under the honour killing laws,” Barikot’s Deputy Superintendent of Police Badshah Hazrat said.
Multiple legislations, aiming to prevent honour killings, have been in place for decades. These include the 2006, Protection of Women Act of 2006, the Third Amendment to the Criminal Law Act from 2011, and the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act along with the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act passed in 2016. However, the implementation of these laws has been a concern.
Even bigger question mark has been over addressing the patriarchal setup of the society and the ideals that have historically been used to justify violence against women.
Among the many forms of violence justified through aggressive misogyny is domestic violence, which has seen a global rise in recent weeks. With families locked down, and no escape for many owing to the pandemic, the violence against female family members has increased.
Furthermore, with the global pandemic causing multiple crises, the impact of those has also translated into a rise in domestic violence – which often self-manifests in abusing the most vulnerable.
Mental health professionals and other medical practitioners, currently offering telehealth services in Pakistan, have reported that domestic abuse has significantly increased during the lockdown. Some health professionals have even reported that online health sessions are being cut short under intimidation or fear of a violent backlash. Not only women, but children have been bearing the brunt of the abuse during lockdowns as well.
Pakistan’s Human Rights Ministry has noted the vulnerability of women and children during the covid-19 crisis, and has set up a helpline to curtail the violence.
“Lockdowns and quarantine measures often leave women and children vulnerable to domestic abuse and violence — which is known to rise during emergencies. Our helpline is here to help you. Dial 1099 or call/text us on WhatsApp: 03339085709,” the official Twitter handle of the ministry posted.
Federal Human Rights Rabia Javeri Agha has further underlined that efforts are ongoing to protect women. She says that the ministry is looking to raise awareness with regards to the rights of women, and providing the victims the help that they needed.
“Women are more vulnerable to violence due to the current lockdown, as male family members target them due to frustration. We are evolving a comprehensive plan to counter domestic violence and create awareness among women [during the pandemic],” Agha said.