KARACHI: The Women Action Forum (WAF) has urged the government of Sindh to take certain measures to prevent and respond to incidents of domestic violence that may rise during the lockdown period.

While appreciating the measures of lockdown and closure taken by the provincial government to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the WAF Karachi said the steps underscored the importance of the 18th Amendment, which awards autonomous decision-making powers to provinces, which the forum had always supported and stood by.

“WAF also acknowledges the services being rendered by law-enforcement personnel, which place them at high risk. WAF Karachi has consistently maintained that the impact of humanitarian crises is not neutral but in fact, human security depends on social and economic positioning based on class, gender, ethnicity, caste, race, age and geographical location. These factors determine people’s vulnerabilities and risks to disasters. That is why invariably and globally, it is the poor, women, children, elderly, migrants and sick people who suffer the most from natural calamities and human-led disasters,” , the WAF said in a statement issued here on Sunday.

The WAF statement added that: “Women suffer an increase in their burden of household chores and childcare responsibilities and, in many cases, physical constraints and proximity leads to an increase in domestic violence and its intensity, putting lives of women and children at high risk.

“Given the crippling impact of the ongoing pandemic created by the spread of Covid-19, it is critically important for the government to apply a gendered lens to its policies. Domestic violence victims face greater risks during mandatory lockdowns and social distancing measures in place. It is more difficult for them to access support from their community, work colleagues or extended family members. Since the pandemic will increase economic and psychological pressures, it is also likely that abusers will intensify their violence. Laws guaranteeing women and children protection from violence in the home, including the Sindh Domestic Violence Act 2013 should continue to be enforced,” read the statement.

The WAF Karachi urged the Sindh government to take measures to prevent and respond to incidents of domestic violence against women and children while the lockdown or mandatory social distancing was in force.

It demanded that complaint cells and crisis centres run by the women development department should be made functional (with reduced staff if needed) to respond to complaints.

The WAF said that the police Madadgar helpline (15) should remain responsive to complaints of domestic violence.

Mass awareness through television, radio and text messaging should be raised regarding the availability of this helpline, it added.

Shelters and safe homes should be kept open to women while maintaining isolation and social distancing in the facility. If needed, additional temporary shelters should be set up for this purpose with the help of the provincial government, the WAF statement said.

Police should be instructed to respond to complaints by going to people’s homes promptly if required, and to make arrests, if needed, while acting strictly in accordance with the law to ensure no violations occur, the WAF added.

The remedies available to women and children under the Sindh Domestic Violence Act 2013, especially protection orders and residence orders should be publicised, the WAF demanded.

Since courts remain open for urgent matters, they should continue to accept applications for these orders, the WAF demanded in the statement.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020

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