From India in solidarity: Ending the ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women

As the UN kicks off its 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based violence, Ardhana Srivastava, from WFP’s India office, spells out the link between GBV and food insecurity

Lockdown pals: WFP staff member Shruti enjoyed spending time with her daughter Aanya at home

On 25 November each year, the World Food Programme supports the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, part of the UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign.

This year’s 16 Days is themed, ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ — a call to bridge funding gaps, ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, focus on prevention, and collection of data that can improve life-saving services for women and girls. The aim is to end what the UN calls the ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women and girls.

Below, Aradhana Srivastava, an advocate for gender issues at WFP India — which invited its Twitter followers to show solidarity and pose in orange — explains why raising awareness around gender-based violence (GBV) is so critical.

Siddharth and his wife Suchi felt their home was the most comfortable and safe place to be during this time. Photo: WFP India

What happened with gender-based violence during lockdown?

Reported cases more than doubled during the pandemic — we can only imagine how unreported cases must really have increased. The extent of suffering is actually much larger than what is being seen.

Home is not necessarily a safe space for victims of domestic violence — daily, all the time, you’re enclosed with the perpetrator.

You are not able to call for help. You are really suffering in silence.

How is GBV linked to food insecurity?

Research shows domestic violence is very closely correlated with families’ level of income. It’s actually higher among lower-income households, and more food-insecure ones.

The increased incidence of domestic violence is linked to loss of livelihoods, loss of access to food — so there is a direct bearing. The more the food insecurity, the more mental stress that is caused, within households, and the more it perpetuates in the form of domestic violence.

How many people does WFP provide food assistance to in India?

WFP doesn’t provide direct food assistance in India — we are there to work with the Government, providing technical assistance to strengthen the existing food safety nets, as well as advocating for any different new approaches that might be required to make schemes more inclusive.

Why would you say gender issues are important?

Gender is critical here because we cannot envisage a hunger-free world if all women, men, girls and boys do not have equal opportunity, equal access to food, equal voice in decision-making.

Kriti shared some ‘together’ time with her family at home, and absolutely loved it. Photo: WFP India

How does that work in practice?

The concept is built into in the technical assistance we provide to ensure that Government programmes are also able to reach every woman, man, girl and boy equally and cater to all the different intersectionalities that exist within gender and inclusion.

Anu was excited by dynamic projects during lockdown while Jyotsna and her dog Tiger spent some ‘lovely’ time together at home. Photos: WFP India

So, we also look at disability inclusion and indigenous peoples. Based on our inputs the Government is able to strengthen food safety nets that actually have a significant coverage. The Public Distribution System, for example, where we provide technical support, supplies subsidized grains to low-income households — with a reach of around 800 million people.

member Sanjna, could use her time at home to be creative with her artwork as well as food. Photo: WFP India

Campaigns aim to raise awareness — is that enough?

If there is awareness, that can lead to empathy and some efforts on the part of the community to actually bring about a change, to be able to spread that light of awareness, among others, to be able to bring about some kind of a realization that gender-based violence, or rather, let’s say in this particular context, domestic or intimate partner violence, is very real, very close to us.

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