Community support crucial for ending domestic violence during Covid-19
KABUL - A community sensitive to signs of domestic violence is a key component to ending violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic, said participants in a series of UNAMA-backed radio programmes broadcast across Afghanistan.
In the interactive shows – which have so far aired in 20 provinces in April, May and June – experts and radio hosts answered questions posed by local residents about the pandemic’s impact on their families and talked about ways to cope effectively with the situation.
With the participation of governmental officials, religious leaders, rights activists, academics and community elders, the pre-recorded talk shows focused on cultivating solidarity and compassion among communities for families affected by domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During one of the radio broadcasts in Helmand, the head of the local branch of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Moqim Alizai, said the lockdown has led to increased domestic violence in the province and noted that public health officials and human rights defenders have not been able to reverse the trend.
Joining him on the broadcast, Wajiha Moqadas Rasouli, the head of Helmand’s Department of Women’s Affairs, acknowledged the realities of the lockdown but expressed some hope. “Some people, after years of being away from their families, are excited to spend some time with them,” she said. “However, those with low income will struggle more than others and might vent their frustrations on family members, particularly women and children.”
Fatana Aziz Zazai, director of Nangarhar’s Department of Women’s Affairs, spoke in a Jalalabad broadcast about the current situation. “During the lockdown, we have received complaints of violence against women,” she said. “Our department is focusing on raising awareness to reduce the levels of violence in this difficult period; our main message to both women and men is to be patient, to take care of each other and to look with hope to the future.”
Arzo Nikzad, a women's rights activist in Ghazni, indicated in a broadcast that the level of people's awareness of human rights has increased, but suggested it’s not enough. “Preventing violence in small families is the responsibility of each of us,” she said. “We need to keep family spaces free from violence, especially these days when people in quarantine need love and unity more than ever.”
Aleena Ghyasi, director of Badakhshan’s Department of Women’s Affairs, spoke about victim support during one of the broadcasts airing in the province. She said her department’s legal help line has been active during the pandemic, providing victims online legal aid educating women to help reduce the psychological pressures on them during lockdowns.
Hakima Alizada, an official from Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission in Bamyan, underscored that the pandemic has broadly impacted the social, economic and cultural lives of local communities. She said women, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable.
“The occurrence of domestic violence resulting from the current situation and its imposition on women, its psychological pressure on children, and the weak immune systems of elderly people make these groups the most vulnerable,” said Alizada. “Women, children and the elderly are the main victims of this global crisis.”
In June, Afghanistan’s Attorney General’s Office reported 249 cases of women being beaten in family environments during lockdowns. Also in June, a preliminary report was issued by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission indicating that that from 1 January until the end of May, the Commission registered 754 cases of violence against women across Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has made strides in addressing women’s rights with legislation and in other areas, but much remains to be achieved as Afghan women continue face violence and discrimination. Many structural barriers – including poverty, inequality, illiteracy and harmful traditional practices – make women and girls, especially those in remote provinces and rural areas, susceptible to violence and abuse.
The UN maintains that alongside effective legal and institutional mechanisms for women’s access to justice, stopping violence against women and girls requires an effort from everyone, not only acting but also speaking out against violence in homes, workplaces and social settings.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the referral mechanisms for cases of violence against women have continued to operate in provincial centres. However, the situation for women and girls in rural areas of Afghanistan – far from centralized government services – has been particularly dire.
A listener from Kandahar’s Arghandab district spoke to the talk show host by telephone: “The situation is desperate in rural areas, with women and children suffering the most in this health crisis.”
Looking to solutions, programme participants spoke about the need for more helplines, additional women’s shelters, strengthened trust between victims and judicial organs, and more effective engagement with women in during the pandemic. Some also pointed to the role of media and religious leaders as crucial for raising awareness about the importance of ending domestic violence.
“If men and women in a family support each other and keep each other happy, it can increase their resistance against any disease, including COVID-19,” said Nafisa Sahar, a journalist in Jalalabad, speaking during a programme broadcast in the southeast.
The series of radio programmes supported by UNAMA has been broadcast in 20 provinces and will continue across the country to highlight the need for engaging families in discussions about the challenges related to COVID-19 and to underscore the importance of homes being free from violence.
The discussion has extended to social media as well, with partner radio stations encouraging their listeners to participate in the conversations and talk about matters important to their families and communities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNAMA works with various institutions and individuals, including community leaders, youth groups, women and local media stations to create platforms – using radio, social media and television – for Afghans to engage in dialogue on pressing issues affecting their communities.
In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.