During global emergencies, data from police and media records have shown that financial woes coupled with restricted mobility can cause a rise in domestic violence and aggression. In a newly published paper, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researchers found that early evidence suggests the same for the COVID-19 pandemic
Gender Based Violence is defined by the United Nations as any act of violence that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, girls, men, and boys, as well as threats of such acts, coercion, or the arbitrary deprivation of liberty. It is recognized as a violation of human rights globally, most commonly perpetrated form of Gender Based Violence is domestic violence against women.
The patriarchal mindset, gender inequality intermingled with economic troubles caused by the pandemic along with social distancing and isolation measures have amounted to an expeditious increase in Gender Based Violence. In France, for example, there was a staggering 30% increase in cases of domestic violence during lockdown. In Cyprus and Singapore, the help lines have registered an increment in calls by 30 % and 33 % respectively. In Argentina, emergency calls for domestic violence cases have increased by 25 % since the lockdown started.
Reports suggest that police have been reluctant to intervene and detain perpetrators of Gender Based Violence due to COVID‐19 outbreaks in prisons.
Globally, there are 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 who have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in last 12 months. The number is likely to show an increase as health, security and monetary tensions heighten and are exacerbated by confined living spaces and limited mobility during this pandemic.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is no exception when it comes to Gender Based Violence.
Around 28% of women between ages 15-49 have experienced physical violence since age 15 and 6% have experienced sexual violence. Seven percent of women who have ever been pregnant have experienced violence during pregnancy. Eight percent of ever-married women report that their husbands display three or more specific types of controlling behaviors. Around 34% of ever-married women have experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence. The most common type of spousal violence is emotional violence (26%), followed by physical violence (23%). Five percent of women have experienced spousal sexual violence. 26% of ever-married women who have experienced spousal physical or sexual violence have sustained injuries. Cuts and bruises are the most common types of injuries reported. The alarming figure is 56% of women who have experienced any type of physical or sexual violence have not sought any help or talked with anyone about resisting or stopping the violence.
It is important to delve into the psyche of these battered and abused women to decipher the multifarious reasons for not seeking help and for continuing to suffer in silence. There is stigmatization due to cultural pressures which makes it a taboo to seek support and engenders repression of women. Given the present circumstances, with financial uncertainties, rise in unemployment and confinement to their respective homes, there is a high probability of escalating domestic tensions making women more vulnerable and susceptible to violence. Consequently, Pakistan might experience a surge in cases of domestic abuse along with other types of Gender-Based Violence. It is the need of the hour to integrate GBV prevention and rapid response services as essential services during this pandemic to avert any grave harm inflicted on women. Due to restrictions on movement, the transition to remote and technology-based solutions is highly recommended. Smartphone Apps, online platform and specialized SMS services provide services, support, collect and generate data, as well as disseminate information effectively.
Bright Sky, a UK-based app, can be used to help survivors prepare to safely leave abusive situations. It can be disguised for people worried about partners checking their phones. It can also log incidents of domestic abuse, without any content being saved on the device itself, building a secure body of evidence so police can intervene and secure a prosecution. In Brazil, apps such as SOS Mulher are being developed by the police and civil society with the dual function to report incidents of domestic violence during social isolation, as well as incidents of non-compliance with emergency protective measures imposed on the offender.
As part of its partnership with Jumia Food, UNDP Uganda is exploring how to incorporate GBV messaging in an e-commerce platform which connects small and medium-sized enterprises and informal market vendors to customers, as part of its COVID-19 response. Safety Net Australia provides mobile phones and $30 pre-credit in addition to providing survivors with the means to connect with support.
In Pakistan, FALAH is an app which is providing relief, support and protection to women who are at an increased risk of being subjected to domestic violence and abuse. By using this app, women under distress can send alerts with audio, SMS, call and location to their friends, family, parents or guardians, police and local authorities in case of any unfavorable/emergency situation. This app makes the entire process of connecting the complainants with the concerned authority swift and efficient.
It is imperative that there is advocacy and awareness about the support system, technology based solutions and services available to women in these dire circumstances. The civil society, provincial and government institutions and community support system need to be sensitized and work in tandem to address the impending danger of growth in Gender Based Violence.
 UN Women (2020). The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women and Girls and COVID-19, New York.
 Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2017-18 [FR354]