Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) occurs all over the world. According to the UN Women, one in three women are estimated to have experienced violence during their life time. VAWG is widely underreported often times, both in normal and emergency stages — the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, (herein after referred to as “COVID”) has worsened the situation and the reporting of it. As of World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Women, in comparison, women and girls are more vulnerable due to Covid-19 lock down. UN Women reported that due to the COVID, calls to domestic violence helpline centers and reports to police and shelter homes have increased tremendously.
VAWG is a big concern in Nepal even before COVID, but it has worsened after the lock-down measures or quarantines. Confinement of the family members within the house, restricted movement and social isolation have led to the limited access to peer support. Family economic situation is also weakened due to the loss of jobs and regular incomes. Stress has increased within the family members due to some starting to work from home or due to those with loss of jobs and nothing much to do. This has exacerbated VAWG —especially those who are with an abusive partners.
According to the UNFPA report, “for every 3 months the lock down continues, an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence are expected”. As reported by the UN, a 24 hour helpline service (calling 1145 to report the violence) run by Nepal’s National Women Commission (NWC) reported that calls related to domestic violence after COVID lockdown has doubled. However, due to the movement restrictions, women are not able to report on time for a help or an escape. Even if they are able to help, the support systems (police, health service, judicial, civil society organizations) also have difficulty in providing the first-hand immediate support; firstly due to their lock-down situation and secondly their priority have shifted now due to COVID.
As a way forward, under the COVID (pandemic) response plan, the control and management of VAWG needs to be prioritized. The helpline support shelters should be immediately accessible to those in need without disruption. Public awareness in terms of VAWG should be made from different platforms such as mass media mobilization or widespread dissemination of digital platforms including the strict implementation of the rules and regulations to penalize the perpetrators. Preventive measures should be more of a bottom-up approach such as mobilization of mother or sister’s groups to prevent the violence. As a top-down approach, Nepal’s government, now being federal, should also pay special attention to monitor, prevent and manage VAWG.