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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 92-94

Women's mental health and domestic violence in India during COVID-19 pandemic

Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysore, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission31-Aug-2020
Date of Decision23-Oct-2020
Date of Acceptance30-Oct-2020
Date of Web Publication2-Feb-2021

Correspondence Address:
M Kishor
Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysore, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijhas.IJHAS_213_20

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How to cite this article:
Mansharamani B, Kishor M. Women's mental health and domestic violence in India during COVID-19 pandemic. Int J Health Allied Sci 2021;10:92-4

How to cite this URL:
Mansharamani B, Kishor M. Women's mental health and domestic violence in India during COVID-19 pandemic. Int J Health Allied Sci [serial online] 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 25];10:92-4. Available from: https://www.ijhas.in/text.asp?2021/10/1/92/308586


COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in recent times, and it has affected people adversely. In any disaster, women are considered vulnerable because of many biopsychosocial factors. One of the important areas of concern is about the impact on mental health of women and increase in domestic violence against women (VAW), more so during the pandemic, which has been observed in many countries all over the world.

The United States Department of Justice Office on VAW has defined domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner.”[1] According to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of India, 2005, it is defined as “any act of commission or omission or conduct resulting in physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and economic abuse.”[2] It includes insulting, controlling behavior, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, threatening, stalking, cyberstalking, and economic abuse.

Globally, one-in-three women experience intimate partner violence. The economic costs of this violence range from 1% to 4% of global gross domestic product.[3] Two-third of married women in India are victims of domestic violence.[4] Multiple studies have found a relationship between natural disasters or any other extreme events with increase in the rates of interpersonal violence. Disasters appear to exacerbate preexisting social inequalities, disproportionately victimizing women, especially in developing nations, which can occur due to various reasons including stress due to physical confinement, economic disruption, possible unemployment, scarcity of basic provisions, and limited social support.[5]

The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the World Health Organization recommended social isolation and containment measures. The Indian government announced a countrywide lockdown, starting at midnight on March 24, 2020, requiring that people stay at home and leave only for an essential reason. But home may not be always a safe place, in fact, it is often considered as the place where abuse occurs against women. This is because in largely patriarchal India society,power dynamics can be distorted by those who abuse,often without scrutiny from anyone from the outside. Unintentionally, “lockdown” and other restrictions may be granted more freedom to people who abuse “behind closed doors.”[6]

As social isolation requires families to remain in their homes, it increases interpersonal arguments and conflicts. The fear and uncertainty associated with the pandemic, along with unemployment and economical stressors, mainly in developing countries, can affect individuals and men may develop maladaptive behaviors to cope with the situation, which triggers domestic abuse.[7] Men in India, because of sociocultural context, believe in dominance and blame the spouse; women thus are at the receiving end in all aspects including financial issues.[7],[8] There is also depletion of existing social support of friends and extended family and fewer opportunities for people living with family violence to call for help.[7] These behaviors can significantly affect their mental health and well-being.

United Nations Women, a special wing of UN, has referred to the rise in VAW during the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying lockdowns as the “Shadow Pandemic.”[9] A recent article reported on the pattern of the surge of domestic violence cases being repeated globally. It highlighted alarming figures, for example, a rise of reports of domestic violence by 40% or 50% in Brazil.[10] In the UK, one of the leading domestic abuse organizations reported that calls to the UK Domestic Violence Helpline increased by 25% in the week following the announcement of tighter social distancing and lockdown measures by the government. During the same period, there was a 150% increase in visits to the support website.[11]

India, with existing concern for gender-based violence (and ranked the fourth worst country for gender equality, according to public perception), is showing similar trends. After the announcement of nationwide lockdown, the number of domestic violence complaints received by the National Commission for Women (NCW) had increased significantly. Until early April 2020, there was a twofold increase in complaints related to VAW. As complaints surged, the NCW raised an urgent alert to announce mental health helplines for those witnessing any form of domestic violence, starting a WhatsApp number +917217735372 in addition to existing pan India helpline 181 and 1091. According to a report, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of complaints among all states. About 86% of the women who experienced violence never sought help, and 77% of the victims did not even mention the incident to anyone.[12] In a recent study, it was seen that districts in which a greater proportion of husbands reported that beating wives was justified, saw a greater increase in domestic violence complaints in red zone districts relative to green zone districts.[13]

Domestic violence can lead to long-term negative consequences to victims due to emotional and psychological distress ranging from low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, and substance use to suicidality.[14] A cross-sectional study from India showed the association between violence and self-reported gynecological complaints, low body mass index, depression, and attempted suicide.[15]

Among all the issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis of increasing domestic VAW and mental health of women has received little attention. As the repercussions of this can be long term and damaging, not only for its victims but also for the entire country, it is necessary to take active measures in controlling VAW. Forming new support systems via online portals and reinforcing existing ones, speedy processing complaints, and awareness campaigns, can be a few measures. It is important that all health-care professionals in India are made aware of the women's mental health issues and trained to offer support and address the issues. Further research studies are required in this crucial area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

What is the Definition of Domestic Violence?-FindLaw. Findlaw; 2020. Available from: https://family.findlaw.com/domestic-violence/what-is-domestic-violence.html. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 1
Government of India. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act; 2005. p. 2005. Available from: http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A2005-43.pdf. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 2
García-Moreno C, Zimmerman C, Morris-Gehring A, Heise L, Amin A, Abrahams N, et al. Addressing violence against women: A call to action. Lancet 2015;385:1685-95.  Back to cited text no. 3
Malhotra S, Shah R. Women and mental health in India: An overview. Indian J Psychiatry 2015;57:S205-11.  Back to cited text no. 4
Gearhart S, Patron MP, Hammond TA, Goldberg DW, Klein A, Horney JA. The impact of natural disasters on domestic violence: An analysis of reports of simple assault in Florida (1999-2007). Violence Gend 2018;5:87-92.  Back to cited text no. 5
Bradbury Jones C, Isham L. The pandemic paradox: The consequences of COVID-19 on domestic violence. J Clin Nurs 2020;29:2047-9.  Back to cited text no. 6
Campbell AM. An Increasing Risk of Family Violence during the Covid-19 Pandemic: Strengthening Community Collaborations to Save Lives. Forensic Science International: Reports, 100089; 2020.  Back to cited text no. 7
Usher K, Bhullar N, Durkin J, Gyamfi N, Jackson D. Family violence and COVID-19: Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support. Int J Ment Health Nurs 2020;29:549-52.  Back to cited text no. 8
UN Women. Violence against Women and Girls: The Shadow Pandemic; 2020. Available from: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/4/statement-ed-phumzile-violence-against-women-during-pandemic. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 9
The Guardian. Lockdowns around the World Bring Rise in Domestic Violence; 2020. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/28/lockdowns-world-rise-domestic-violence. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 10
Domestic Abuse Calls 'up 25% Since Lockdown'. BBC News; 2020. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52157620. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 11
Chandra J. NCW Launches Domestic Violence Helpline. The Hindu; 2020: Available from: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ncw-launches-domestic-violence-helpline/article31312219.ece. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 12
Ravindran S, Shah M. Unintended Consequences of Lockdowns: Covid-19 and the Shadow Pandemic; National Bureau of Economic Research; 2020. Available from: http://nber.org/papers/w27562. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 13
World Health Organization. Violence against Women in Women's Mental Health an Evidence Based Review. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2000. Available from: https://who.int/mental_health/publications/women_nm_evidence_review/en/. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 28].  Back to cited text no. 14
Chowdhary N, Patel V. The effect of spousal violence on women's health: Findings from the Stree Arogya Shodh in Goa, India. J Postgrad Med 2008;54:306-12.  Back to cited text no. 15
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