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A study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, brings confirmation that the coronavirus lockdowns are making Indian women more vulnerable ( exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally ) to violence at home — a fear that activists and academics have voiced from the start.
Mapping ( an operation that associates each element of a given set (the domain) with one or more elements of a second set (the range) ) the complaints of domestic violence received by the National Commission for Women (NCW) in April-May against designated ( officially give a specified status or name to ) red, green and orange zones, the study found that complaints of domestic violence rose 131 per cent in red zones, where there were stricter ( demanding that rules concerning behaviour are obeyed and observed ) curbs ( a check or restraint on something ) on mobility, relative to green zones.
The study also found that cases of harassment, sexual assault, and rape decreased during the period, perhaps correlating (establish a mutual relationship or connection between ) to less exposure to “public spaces, public transport, and workplaces”. It also highlighted a spike ( a sharp increase in the magnitude or concentration of something ) in Google searches for “domestic violence helplines”.
Early into the pandemic, the United Nations had warned of a “shadow pandemic” of intimate ( closely acquainted; familiar ) partner violence as women across the world are locked in with their abusers, unable to seek help. In India, too, activists have flagged a dip in calls to helplines as a sign of women’s inability to reach out for assistance. The UCLA research warns against reading the dip in reported sexual violence as a sign that women are safer at home.
It underlines that the patriarchal ( relating to or denoting a system of society or government controlled by men ) violence faced by Indian women, in their homes and outside, is deep-rooted and capable of taking on different forms. The pandemic is not just a public health challenge. It also threatens to disrupt the systems and institutions that provide a fragile ( easily destroyed or threatened ) immunity against toxic social inequalities. For Indian women, the snapping ( the action of breaking suddenly and completely ) of access to mobility, income, and circles of solidarity outside the family can have terrifying consequences.
The UCLA research ought to serve as an urgent SOS for governments and policymakers. Unfortunately, the Union minister for Women and Child Development has debunked ( expose the falseness or hollowness of (an idea or belief) ) the fears of a spike in domestic violence during the lockdown as “scaremongering ( the spreading of frightening or ominous reports or rumours) ”.
Instead of denial, local governments, police and ground-level health workers must prioritise ( designate or treat (something) as being very or most important ) the safety of women, innovate on ways to communicate with them, and set up shelters where they can be removed out of harm’s way. Women’s needs, like those of all vulnerable groups, must be placed at the heart of the emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis. They cannot wait till the end of the pandemic for help to reach them.