The Police Commissioner, in April, estimated that domestic violence reports would double this year (232 in 2019 to 558 in 2020). This is consistent with what the United Nations calls the ‘shadow pandemic’, a global increase in domestic violence amid the Covid-19 health crisis. How do you reach out for help when the abuser is at home 24/7, watching your every move?
The plight of our young women is evidenced in the articulate Facebook post on June 26 by Reshma Kanchan, our latest spousal murder victim. How do they find a man who can share their vision and understand their feelings? How to fend off an intimate partner who is threatened by your progress? When will our young men understand that disrespect does not breed respect? Both persons in that relationship were in their 20s.
Do not look away. This is not a rural problem, this is not a problem for a specific religious group or socio-economic one. It is pervasive with one in three women experiencing abuse in their lifetime.
Our women still do between two and ten times more domestic work than men, even though between 40 and 50 per cent of them work outside the home. More than half of our tertiary-level graduates are women, yet the average income for men exceeds women for all listed occupational groups.
While some activists have called for more legislation and more police vigilance, the issue is a deeper and systemic one that requires more concerted action with our young men. Research tells us that the majority of men who perpetrate violence will do so for the first time before they are 18 years old, and they will do so more than once. Our intervention has to be earlier.
We react with the news of murders, but the bulk of the problem is often less severe-pushing/shoving, sexual coercion and intimidating actions-but more sustained. Defining it in terms of physical assault or injuries sustained is problematic since the emotional and psychological abuse is equal to or more damaging and more long-lasting. The solution is in a sustained, long-term approach.
Boys who witness physical abuse in their homes are three times more likely to abuse their partner than others who had not witnessed such. A greater incidence of physical punishment in teen years leads to a greater risk of partner abuse. Having abusive friends who verbally legitimise female victimisation increase the likelihood of both physical and psychological abuse in intimate relationships.
Peer pressure encourages young men to prove their manhood through violence, and intimate partners are collateral damage. There is a substantial overlap between physical and sexual violence. If we do not heal our young men, the cycle of damaged families and criminality will persist.
But the page can be turned. Attitudes can be changed. We need to teach young men that relationships based on equality and mutual respect are more rewarding than those based on fear and domination. We need to address the social and structural determinants of gender inequalities and violence while promoting positive constructions of masculinity.
Our male politicians and religious leaders need to speak up and demonstrate thoughtful behaviour towards our women. To treat women right is not being anti-male. There is a need for a national conversation about roles and responsibilities, using the themes of fatherhood and caregiving. We can do it if we try.