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Physical, mental and economic violence increases during the pandemic

Screenshot 2020-12-09 072141

There has been an escalation of gender-based violence globally in the COVID-19 pandemic period and the situation in Bangladesh is alarming. From January to September 2020, so far 358 women had been victims of violence and 183 had been killed, according to legal aid organisaton Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a Human rights organisation. But the numbers would be much larger as many cases remain unreported.

These observations were made at the first in a series of BIPSS Policy Café dialogues launched by Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies Speakers at a discussion held on Monday, 7 November at the Radisson Hotel in the capital city Dhaka. Organised by Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, the Policy Café dialogue was kicked off with a discussion on ‘Gender-based violence during COVID-19’.

BIPSS president Maj Gen ANM Muniruzzaman (retd), introducing the issue, said there was need for fresh policy formulations to counter action to contain the increase of gender-based violence which had particularly become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said impunity was one of the key factors that allowed this violence to grow uncontrolled.

While it is important to have accurate statistics about violence against women, domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence, we must remember these are not mere numbers, said Ayesha Kabir, head of the daily Prothom Alo’s English online news portal. She said that Violence Against Women was more than just physical torture. It included murder, rape, rape followed by murder, physical torture, mental torture, economic violence and more. Women faced economic violence when they were completely deprived from any form of finance and this increased due to the overall economic slump induced by the pandemic.

In order to protect their girls from sexual abuse, parents in rural Bangladesh often gave their minor daughters in marriage. But child marriage was not the answer. It merely legalized rape of girl children often resulting in sickness and death.

There were many laws in place, and good laws, but the problem lay in the implementation of the law. However, even more important was awareness of the laws and the inability to speak out. Too often the victim woman was put to shame while the perpetrator gained impunity.

She said it was important that persons from all walks of life and of all ages, particularly members of the law enforcement, were sensitised to the issue of gender violence. At a rural level, field workers could be trained as paralegals to inform and advise women about their rights to legal remedy.

Participants at the dialogue said that the media needed to play a much stronger role in addressing the issue of domestic violence. They said that even men and boys were victims of violence in various ways and this needed to be exposed too.

A participant at the event stressed that counselling was essential for both the perpetrators and the victims. Juvenile criminals were not counseled at the correctional centres and so became even more hardened criminals.

The dialogue also stressed that good governance was essential if tangible measures were to be taken against the growing propensity of gender-based violence.