Every year, 25 November is celebrated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (VAW). Every year, we hear the statistics, and possibly forget that pre-COVID-19, nearly 1 in 3 women globally would experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In the last two years of COVID-19, we have witnessed a Shadow Pandemic across the world, with early estimates from 13 countries suggesting that nearly 2 in 3 women experienced some form of violence. Prevent Violence Against Women
In India, unprecedented increases were seen in reports of domestic violence (DV). DV complaints reported to the National Commission for Women nearly doubled following the nationwide lockdown in March – June 2020. Dipstick surveys and consultations held by Nikore Associates between August 2020 – May 2021 with over 60 women’s community-based organizations (CBOs), self-help groups and academic experts revealed that mobility restrictions and increased economic distress were amongst the leading factors driving increased VAW. For instance, a national CBO working on prevention of VAW and human trafficking shared that violence against women intensified as frustration and stress of survival amongst communities increased.
Even as the demand for social infrastructure and services for prevention of VAW was increasing, the supply side was crippled by lockdowns, spread of the pandemic, and redirection of human and financial resources towards providing food and emergency relief to under-resourced households. CBOs, usually the first point of contact for prevention of VAW, experienced several resource shortages. For instance, a CBO working on gender-based violence in Madhya Pradesh highlighted that their attention, funds, and resources were diverted to managing the health crisis, especially during the first and second wave of the pandemic.
Despite these resource constraints, and fast changing priorities, several CBOs emerged as leaders and innovators, providing services for the prevention of VAW during the pandemic. Jagori, a national CBO, launched round the clock phone helpline services for reporting crimes against women, witnessing steep increases in calls received. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective made door-to-door visits to women’s homes for assistance and counselling support. As Vandita Morarka, the founder of One Future Collective, a Mumbai based CBO, saw a threefold increase in distress calls on their helpline during the first lockdown, their team mobilised resources through neighborhood crowd funding mechanisms to provide housing, financial, medical and mental health support to survivors of violence. Women of the Elements Trust, a Delhi based CBO, noticed a spurt in calls from women effectively locked in with their abusers soon after the national lockdown, with little awareness of any available support. This led to a collaboration with the Jindal Stainless Foundation, whose support allowed them to start a legal counselling infoline where people could call to learn about their options for responding to DV.
Designing support services for prevention of VAW is a resource intensive proposition, with both public sector as well CBO-run centres suffering a severe crisis of financing and skilled personnel. A recent study by Oxfam India estimated that the annual budgetary requirement for prevention of VAWG stands at about INR 10,000 – INR 11,000 crores, to reach about 60% of survivors (based on pre-COVID-19 estimates). Allocations in 2018-19 to 2020-21 have been about the quarter of the required amount. Moreover, even though CBOs attempt to maximise available resources, and deploy innovative mechanisms to mobilise financing, the lack of funding continues to constrain operations and expansion plans.
Traditionally, governments and the public sector have been the primary source of financing for violence preventions infrastructure and services. However, there are two compelling arguments for increasing the private sector’s role in service provision. First, fiscal constraints post-COVID-19 make it difficult for governments to enhance the resource envelope to fully bridge existing resource gaps. And second, evidence suggests that underutilisation of allocated public funds continues to remain a challenge (Oxfam, 2020).
In such a scenario, governments can adopt a partnerships-based approach for providing social infrastructure and services for prevention of VAW. Public private partnership (PPP) mechanisms can be deployed to mobilise additional resources from the private sector, especially given the availability of corporate social responsibility funding, and increased interest in support gender equality initiatives. Social infrastructure such as One Stop Centres can be built under PPP mode. CBOs can become implementation partners to operationalise and maintain these Centres, thereby enhancing implementation efficiencies and optimising the utilisation of available resources. Contracts can be devised so that CBOs only receive financial support when they meet clearly defined, quantifiable outputs.
“The sharp rise in VAW - structural and physical, sexual, emotional - during the pandemic has left a long shadow on women's lives, which I am afraid, will be a lingering one unless we stop at once treating women as the 'forever' shock absorbers,” opines Jaya Velankar, Director, Jagori Women's Resource Centre, Delhi. Estimates from the World Bank show that VAW can cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP. Thus, as we move towards “building back better” post COVID-19, the social infrastructure and services required for prevention of VAW need to be viewed as investments in the country’s human capital, rather than expenditure line items in budgets.
The article has been co-written by Mitali Nikore, Geetika Malhotra and Samiha Singh.
Mitali Nikore is an economist and Founder of Nikore Associates, a youth-led economic research and policy think tank. The views expressed are the author's own.