Covid-19 intensified ‘Gender-Based Violence’ in Pakistan, but how?

Post-COVID-19, nations will witness the highest levels of 'inequity' and inequality. The coronavirus pandemic underscores the social justice problems that already existed but now opens up the possibility of the 'new age of justice' for the masses.

How did Covid-19 intensify'Gender-Based Violence' in Pakistan

The world has changed for sure. Life has turned three sixty degrees for most of us. It is a time of action based upon reflection. Our timetables are in disarray, with the lifestyle and activities cut down to a bare minimum. This is exactly the time to think beyond the standards we have been used to and create new standards of thought. More importantly, it is time to analyze ‘life’, from a child’s point of view. As more and more children are living in conflict zones, a risk to life and health for young children remain threatened under escalating violence as they face quarantine at home.

Lockdown may lead towards a fiasco

Considering the world economies are in a state of limbo, we must make personal efforts to steer our families out of the crisis. The money supply is short and people are financially burdened. This can build up in an extremely tense scenario at home, giving rise to ‘home conflict zones’ which basically is the house itself. The recent World Bank report on South Asia presents a bleak economic outlook of the post-COVID-19 scenario. Unemployment will be the biggest impediment for the country with over 20 million or more households impacted as the economy braces itself to face the biggest recession in recent history. Now with parents usually at home in an unemployed world, we face a gigantic task to prevent violence at home.

During the imposed lockdown, millions of women in Africa, Asia and elsewhere remain out of reach of birth control and other reproductive health care needs. They face a high risk of unwanted pregnancy until they start to see the normal world outside. They also face immense violence at the hands of husbands and others.

In Pakistan, most of the middle and lower-income suffer from violence at home due to an extended family system, more occupants within one unit homes, rising population and lack of protection on reproductive rights. As is the case globally with many poor nations due to financial insecurity, living conditions, lack of legal rights to services and illiteracy.

Vulnerability of females in Pakistan; gender-based violence on the rise

We are one of the more illiterate males dominate societies in the world of nations and our women are at extreme risk of mistreated-raped, battered and beaten by members of her own family than anyone outside. Due to cultural taboos, women are kept in invisible chains of ignorance, weakness and domination, leaving little girls at extreme risk of rape and physical violence, without any means to protect them.

Read more: 8 children are sexually abused every day in Pakistan, report

According to the Human Rights Watch, there are over 2 million girls under 15 years of age, becoming victims of sexual violence each year. The quarantine has reduced the virus but has increased the number of cases of physical and emotional abuse, resulting in a higher number of unwanted pregnancies in young girls. The abusers are usually close relatives, cousins and at times even siblings. Sadly, in a toxic society like ours, it is a mammoth task to ensure protection and legal support for girls, with lack of access to safe health care and schools-with one of the highest numbers of ‘girl children’ out of school in Pakistan.

Many action steps have been proposed in the past by non-serious governments, not willing to spend a dime on ‘safety for the girl child’ and many laws have been devised without proper implementation. Post COVID-19, the need for speed on such initiatives must now become the topmost priority for the government of Pakistan.

Women lack basic facilities for survival

The pandemic has already started to put severe pressure on an already non-existent health-care system in the country. Essential services for girls like reproductive devices and protective equipment like contraceptive pills are not readily accessible for the girls living in the confines of their homes- the ‘new conflict zone’.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the government need to sustain a prolonged budget strategy by creating new supply chains to make sure that girls are ensured of their right to access reproductive health care. Marginalized households have difficulty in reaching out for these basic facilities due to overloaded hospitals, travel bans, lockdowns and cultural inhibitions in many nations.

With so many girls from poor families out of school and unable to afford basic primary education, the post-covid19 scenario is spelling out a dark future for all such children, putting the ‘girl-child’ under extraordinary threat to sexual violence.

Pakistan being one of those countries where this is a very sensitive topic, this subject is yet to be discussed on a massive scale by media or civil society. Moreover, the government has yet to take this matter more seriously by putting an end to discrimination against women and girls in need of this sort of health care.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the girls of Pakistan today is ‘poverty’. The emergence of ‘street children’ in Pakistan is the prime example. Provincial governments have failed at a pathetic level to put an end to this crisis due to moral and financial corruption and the Federal government has yet to devise an action plan to control beggary and prostitution that has engulfed our nation.

Girls are the primary victims of this cruel practice and are in the highest number on the streets. Literally, from the ages of 5 to 15, these girls are seen on the street corners of all major cities and towns in Pakistan, from dusk till dawn. This is an alarming problem.

Read more: Can ‘Ehsaas’ program embrace street children?

Rising inequalities in Pakistan and other such nations have been exposed with over 5 million families in Latin America, Caribbean, Asia and Africa, with 40% per cent of their annual non-food household expenditures on maternal health and reproductive health care.

The poor families have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, with a massive number of young girls getting impregnated. Some of them are later forced into prostitution while their babies are gradually inducted by the ‘beggar mafia’. With so many girls from poor families out of school and unable to afford basic primary education, the post-covid19 scenario is spelling out a dark future for all such children, putting the ‘girl-child’ under extraordinary threat to sexual violence.

Reproductive health care: A milestone to achieve for Pakistan

The progress of the nation is defined by the health of its citizens. The government of Pakistan needs to pro-actively deal with this never-ending crisis with a sensible multi-pronged strategy- managing health care and legal care at the same time. While working on effective legislation through parliament and implementation through the judiciary, they also need to devise a “delivery plan’.

This plan must incorporate ways for girls to get instant access to ‘pre-natal’ and ‘birth care’ services, having the right to make informed decisions about labour and birth control. OTC drugs and pills must now be available to them online, as COVID-19 has made it impossible for girls to travel outside easily and even with family members. Most men do not allow girls to go out of the house for households and most girls are shy about talking on these things with their male members. Uneducated men do not promote education for reproductive health for girls of the family, where they can make a constant choice about whether to get pregnant and continue a pregnancy.

To top that, Pakistan has a challenging mortality rate in young pregnant women that needs to be looked at on a war footing basis. This is another example of the “new conflict zone” being created within our own backyards. According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the pandemic has also impacted led to closure of countless FPCs- Family planning centers due to the risk of the virus, law and order or other social distancing requirements, making this a bigger challenge than previously calculated.

How to financially fund this strategy? Primarily, the government must enforce a COVID-tax on the affluent sectors and segments of society use tax revenue to generate reproductive health care drugs and equipment and prevent a bigger disaster which in a way will help reduce population numbers without impacting the health of the poor.

Raising voice for women rights in the post-pandemic world 

Post COVID-19, nations will witness the highest levels of ‘inequity’ and inequality. The coronavirus pandemic underscores the social justice problems that already existed but now opens up the possibility of the ‘new age of justice’ for the masses. Young girls today are the lowest paid ‘essential workers’ non-documented in our economy. By reaching out to them, we can also ensure that we continue to engage them in legal professions and secure the under-age girl populations to go back to schools without disrupting the cultural dynamics of this backward nation.

Can we get legislation passed on this? It is one way to put an end to illegal income trade through young children by the mafia while securing our women and children from disease and provision of basic education rights and reproductive rights for the ‘girl-child’.

Going through emotional and physical abuse at a tender age is a basic violation of human rights and the biggest violation of Article 31- Rights of the Child. In other words, we called it ‘injustice’

Girls are the future of the nation. Does the government even know the plight of girls from poor families being forced to work as maids when they should be attending school? Women dominate our population numbers and a whole wide number of young girls not being secured are leading to a future crisis visible today, while domestic violence cases are not being properly reported.

If the majority of our female population remains unsafe and uncared for, we will have very serious future repercussions as a nation. Going through emotional and physical abuse at a tender age is a basic violation of human rights and the biggest violation of Article 31- Rights of the Child. In other words, we called it ‘Injustice’.

We must now clearly understand that COVD-19 is a humanitarian problem with rising inequalities leading to higher rates of mortality, especially in rural Pakistan, away from the big cities where crimes against women are not fully reported. As over 1.6 million informal workers standing to lose jobs, violence in households remains a key challenge. Whether it is the state of women prisoners in jail or the women imprisoned under house-lock down, results are the same. We are witnessing a new age of violence and an invisible enemy.

We must understand that ‘conflict zones’ are not just the battlefields left abandoned after a war gets over. A new kind of conflict zone is emerging right in front of our eyes, inside our own communities, leading to a more dangerous war leading to destruction and disease in its aftermath. The women of our country are at risk. Start looking now before it becomes an extremely serious challenge for Pakistan.

Zeeshan Shah, Director at Children Nature Network Asia, writes on Global Affairs, Climate Change, Governance and Public Policy. Zeeshan is an Environmental Journalist & Change Maker, with over 20 years of expertise in Media, Education and Banking sectors.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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