Tuesday 14 July 2020

Gender Inequalities and Gender Based Violence: Shadow Pandemic

Introspective Note of an Indian Feminist

Dr. Sanghamitra Dhar 


In our contemporary social media-driven world, opinions are formed and vehemently spread at the click of the mouse and a chirpy tweet - often unreasonable, judgmental, and biased but always exhibiting power play! It is biased because often it is circulation of unverified, unreliable, vested information. This has created a vacuum in the rational health of a logical society. 

In such an intellectually bereft environment, the chasm is even more profound when the topic is on gender inequality of women and girls as it brings either intense cheers or jeers. It is considered “…unnecessary now as the twenty-first century is women’s and they have the maximum access to resources and services that they ever had!”  “…many of the laws for the protection and safety of women is misused to make the life of the men/husband/partner/male colleague a living hell, just look up the data on the no. of false cases registered against the hapless husband and his innocent family members”; “women are getting more benefits in the corporate world by playing their charming card or the vulnerable card, either way, they are the winner…” [i] are some of the oft-contention from educated, urbane men and sometimes women too.  

There is no denying, we have instances of women misusing the laws for their vested and corrupt interests which requires urgent and immediate restraining[1]. Men who face the brunt in such cases are equally vulnerable and require urgent assistance and support without a doubt. It is reported that 80% of dowry cases in India end in acquittal[2] however, here one has to remember the criticality of unavailability or lack of proof for quashing of these cases as well[3]. Additionally, extensive research for the so-called data has been a futile exercise as none of the reliable, scientific sources of information[ii] have any data whatsoever on the status of harassment of men at home or workplace, which implies reporting on the same requires to be urgently remedied.

Let me reiterate a fundamental fact here - gender inequality is a discourse about the inequities faced by all gender, which can be either woman, man, or transgenders of the world. However, gender inequality recognises that women, and by extension transgenders and others are not equal to the men and indeed gender impacts each person’s lived experiences. The differences arise from divisions in the biological, psychological, and sociological/cultural norms. It is also differently experienced according to the culture one comes from. The fight for women’s right is NOT AGAINST men’s right but IT IS AGAINST the patriarchal and archaic mindset that believes women are lesser human and need to be controlled and dominated.  

Gender equality in current times is primarily addressing the issues of the women as most of the reported inequalities are faced by the women, nationally as well as globally. While inequality faced by the transgender community is also immense and mostly invisible and undocumented nonetheless it is gradually coming to the forefront which is much needed and applaudable.

The fight for women’s right is NOT AGAINST men’s right but IT IS AGAINST the patriarchal and archaic mindset that believes women are lesser human and need to be subjugated!

At the onset, as a feminist, let me put certain basic key factors on the table:

1. Gender-based violence (GBV) is a wide term because the word ‘gender’ encompasses female, male, transgenders, and others. So, we need to specify and/or provide an operational definition of whom we are focusing on in discussion and presupposing it is only women is erroneous.

2. Be mindful of the enormity in nature and forms of GBV that exist.

GBV against women is a pre-existing inequality which means violence against women is a pandemic going on since generations now, both nationally and internationally. The latest NFHS-4 data (2018-2019, India) reflects some astounding facts about the Indian situation - 30% of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and 6% percent have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Intimate partner violence (IPV), more particularly 33% of the ever-married women were found to have faced some form of violence; notably instances of different variations of violence is enumerated and Physical violence stood at 30%, 14% of the women had faced emotional violence, and 7% had experienced sexual violence. Alarmingly, it is seen that only 14% of them have ever sought help to stop the violence.

3. GBV has geographical, religious, often racial and/or caste-based connotations. Case in point - the issue of female foeticide and infanticide, its rampant in some regions of India, cuts across religious borders and caste barriers yet in another part of the same country its completely non-existent, Rajasthan versus Nagaland. It does not mean Nagaland does have other forms of GBV against women, it definitely does, but female foeticide and infanticide is not there at all.

3. GBV has a social, political, economic, physical, and mental health connotations and it truly requires mitigation plans which are comprehensive, inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary in nature.

For example: a programme that is focusing on the livelihood issues of women has to keep in mind and address all other factors too, in order for realising the goal of empowerment that will be sustainable and equitable. Case in point: We know there are numerous instances of affluent working women facing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) on a regular basis in many parts of the world, which clearly indicates that economic independence alone cannot address IPV and GBV because empowerment of the survivor/victim is fundamental. An overhaul of the cultural and social norms is at the core of the problem.

GENDER-based violence against women is a Shadow Pandemic – India and global 

Globally it is a fact that 1 in every 3 women has experienced either physical/sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence[4] in their lifetime. To nail it up for you - just look around your surroundings while you are reading this article, if you see 3 women there, know this for a fact that at least 1 of them has experienced violence against her in her lifetime!

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing national lockdowns to arrest the virus spread, the floodgates seem to be wide open in the incidences of violence against women and girls[iii], most particularly in the intimate partner violence  (IPV) – married or live-in couples, which has found innumerable reporting, both nationally and globally, through different mediums of information.  

WHO[iv] cautions during conflicts, after-conflict and displacement, existing violence is intensified in intimate partners, as well as non-partners, and often leads to newer forms of violence against women[5]. Case in point, the current COVID-19 ridden world scenario wherein families are living indoors, in isolation, in close quarters away from other people. The incidences of IPV is aggravated as observed from the worldwide helpline numbers getting ever-increasing reports of the same[6], in France alone 30% jump in such incidences are reflected in a matter of couple of weeks as the lockdown there was from 11 March[7]. Incidentally, France is among the highest rankers in cases of DV across Europe. Their official data is disconcerting - 1 woman is killed by a partner or former partner every 3 days![8] In Australia, on an average, 1 woman is murdered by her current or former partner every week[9]. Such occurrences and rise in incidences and reporting is present across the continents.

In India as well we are observing ever-rising numbers of reporting, during this lockdown which is now more than 3-month long[v] [10], already 1428 [11] [12] [13] online complaints of IPV and DV have been reported at the National Commission for Women[14] until April- May, some state government bodies are also campaigning for reporting any cases of violence against women and raising awareness about their support to the victims at all times[15]. For a quick comparison on the steep rise of cases, we observe out of the total cases received by NCW in the January- March quarter, 20.6% cases were of DV and in just two month ,i.e. April had a 51.45% case, while May data reflects 45.07% cases of DV which is an exponential jump of double its normal instances of reporting[16].

Some preliminary derivations[vi] from the nature of the e-complaints is further highlighted in the box below[17]:

  • The complainants are educated 
  • They have some level of understanding about digital information and access to internet and email
  • May hail from an affluent and middle class section of the society
  • Are unable to access the telephone helpline due to lack of privacy and restricted mobility as confined with perpetrator 
  • The IPV incidences of the weaker sections are yet to surface as currently they are struggling to achieve basic/physiological needs of food and shelter 

A deepened understanding on some of the different forms of violence against women, in India as well as in many other countries, can be observed from a lifecycle perspective, wherein it is observed that the struggle begins from its conception and her mere chance for survival in the form of female foeticide and infanticide, moving on to female mutilation of genitals for ensuring purity, child marriages, incest, rape, kidnapping and abduction, dowry deaths, assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty, sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking, insult to the modesty of women, intimate partner violence, forced prostitution and pornography, sexual harassment at the workplace, cyber-crime and harassment in social media are some of the rampant forms of VAWG incidences and practices world over.

Therefore, the nature and different forms of gender inequality and violence against women and girls is indeed a shadow pandemic[vii] which is silently, systematically, and adversely affecting hundreds of thousands of women as they are getting scarred, maimed, killed every day across the globe irrespective of the region, class, religion and clearly for their biological identity! The patriarchal hegemony of gender bias/injustice has to be called out and addressed at every stage in a girls and women’s life in order for building a truly equitable and fair society of gender equality.

Undoubtedly, 21st Century has evidenced more women accessing resources and services than the previous periods, however the struggle and fight to a truly GENDER EQUAL WORLD is far from achieved. And every time a person speaks of the supposed non-existent  gender inequality scenario, know this for a fact - it is unmistakeably coming from priviledge alone, not so much from ignorance!

About the Author:

Dr. Sanghamitra Dhar is a Gender Expert and a Social Researcher with more than a decade of work experience in the development sector with civil society organisations and international agencies on issues of gender inequality, child rights and resettlement management issues. She is currently associated with UN Women India office as a Consultant with the Ending Violence Against Women Unit. Views expressed here are her personal

[i] Excerpts from some of the many heated debates and discussions with peers, colleagues; men and women in general, in physical world as well as the virtual spaces.

[ii] Such as the national census data, or the health data (NFHS for India, WHO for global data) or the statistical data sets shared by government bodies

[iii] Will be using some abbreviations throughout the article, which mean the following: DV – Domestic Violence, IPV – Intimate Partner Violence, VAW - Violence against Women, VAWG- Violence against Women and Girls.

[iv] World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.

[v] Indian Government imposed it from 24th March till 31st May, observing a complete lockdown to arrest and combat the pandemic.


[vi] As the author is not privy to all the complaints filed and is basing her assessment on the information shared in the newspaper articles.

[vii] Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has used this terminology to highlight and discuss the plight of high rise of domestic violence incidences during the COVID-19 Lockdown across the world, which she rightly points is a pre-existing issue although national and international bodies fall short to acknowledge the essential services nature of the issue.


  1. Well-researched and explained a complex issue in very simple langauge.
    Thank you! :)

  2. Well integrated thoughts explained in a coherent manner...

    1. Thank you Samarpita, have just tried to assimilate some of the aspects of the wide gender discourse debate here... and thanks for your appreciation! :)