New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic significantly altered people’s lives and most significantly family dynamics. The nationwide lockdown, imposed in March last year, was especially difficult for women since they had to juggle household chores and manage their work.
By the second month of lockdown, complaints about domestic abuse doubled. Such complaints rose from 116 in the first week of March to 257 in the final week.
According to official data, the National Commission for Women (NCW) registered an increase of 2.5 times in complaints of domestic violence in April last year. The NCW received 1,477 complaints between 25 March and 31 May.
A study by researcher Priyanshi Chauhan found that “approximately 22.5% of married women, as compared to zero men and unmarried women, worked for more than 70 hours per week” during the lockdown. The study also said unemployed women witnessed the highest increase of 30.5 percentage points for those who spent more than 70 hours per week on unpaid work.
As part of our series Safe and Sound, in association with Facebook, ThePrint spoke to experts on the various ways the pandemic changed family dynamics and how the lockdown affected women.
Burden on women
According to activist Shabnam Hashmi, the Covid-19 induced lockdown “trapped” women in their own houses, depriving them of “breathing space”, which they would otherwise get.
“The problem here is the mentality. Women, whether working or not, are expected to bear the entire burden of the family. The lockdown made it worse,” Hashmi told ThePrint.
“As soon as the entire family started staying together, 24 hours, in a confined space, the woman in the house is tasked with working and dealing with everything like a machine, from morning till night. Domestic help was also removed by families over fear of Covid, so ultimately from cooking, cleaning to washing, everything fell on her,” she added.
Hashmi also noted that women also bore the brunt of financial instability that arose due to the pandemic.
“Working women had to juggle between work and family. The pandemic also saw many layoffs. Women became the object for facing the brunt and frustration arising from financial instability.”
Rise in domestic abuse
The change in family dynamics also led to women being forced to stay with their abusers.
“Abuse — whether physical, mental or emotional — increased because women during the lockdown period found no respite. They were confined to the walls of the house with their abusers. Drinking or not drinking, these abusers find reasons on a daily basis to vent their frustration on the women, and the pandemic made it worse,” Hashmi said.
She added that the figures of domestic abuse are from those who found the courage to pick up the phone and complain. “There will be many others, staying in joint families who suffer abuse regularly but don’t complain for the sake of privacy and thinking that matters could get worse.”
For working women, work from home during lockdown was an extra burden, juggling between work overload and family responsibilities.
“Violence against women has increased manifold during the pandemic. This comes with the pressure on women to balance household chores and work life,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research.
“Offices need to understand that work from home for women comes with added burden,” Kumari added.
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