SEPTEMBER 9 — Malaysia’s efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic continue, as the country’s Movement Control Orders (MCO) lockdowns ease for fully vaccinated individuals and more sectors open up.
Challenges yet abound, with the highly contagious Delta variant and Covid-19 deaths still not declining. Cumulative cases are inching closer towards 2 million with an unprecedented 393 fatalities recorded on August 26th alone.
Meanwhile, the National Covid-19 Immunisation Plan perseveres, with walk in vaccinations in more areas nationwide and coverage for Sabah’s undocumented in particular, via single dose vaccines- all rolling out steadily. This highlights the new administration’s commendable commitment to prioritising public health.
Amid these co-ordinated efforts for pandemic containment, UNFPA Malaysia wishes to emphasise the urgency of recognising Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) under the existing umbrella of the Shadow Pandemic of domestic violence. Recognising and addressing IPV will indeed prove key to ensuring all vulnerable Malaysian women and girls are adequately protected during and beyond the pandemic.
Rising Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and its impacts amid Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has raised awareness and action around the parallel Shadow Pandemic of Domestic Violence, which is intrinsically connected to the pressures of continuing pandemic lockdowns.
While domestic violence is increasingly recognised, it’s also essential to understand and shed light on Intimate Partner Violence, which, according to the World Health Organisation is one of THE most common forms of violence against women, with 1 in 3 women globally having suffered from IPV.
IPV can include physical, sexual, economic, emotional abuse and controlling behaviours by an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence (IPV) can also occur in all settings and among all socioeconomic, religious and cultural groups, with the overwhelming global burden of IPV- borne once again, by women.
A new UNFPA analysis from the Asia-Pacific region has revealed huge increases in online searches for help from intimate partner violence amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as rising levels of digital misogyny and harassment. These findings fuel long-running concerns over the safety and welfare of women and girls amid the ongoing global crisis.
The study looked at internet search data along with online content via social media platforms in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
The analysis spanned periods from September 2019 to November 2020 and covered about 20.5 million unique searches, 3,500 keywords on violence against women and 2,000 posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and ShareChat.
Searches related to violence – including keywords such as “physical abuse signs”, “violent relationship”, and “cover bruises on face” – increased 47 per cent in Malaysia, 63 per cent in the Philippines and 55 per cent in Nepal between October 2019, before the pandemic, and September 2020, some eight months into the crisis. Queries on “violent husband” or “violent partner” comprised the bulk of searches related to violence against women in seven of the eight countries. Sexual abuse searches have also been increasing. At the same time, online misogyny, such as trolling, sexual harassment and victim-blaming, also rose.
In tandem, a new report from UN Women Asia Pacific on the gendered impact of the pandemic clearly demonstrates how Covid-19 is triggering a mental health crisis in the region, as the emotional impact of the pandemic unduly falls on women’s shoulders in most countries. Increases in unpaid care work, job and income loss, and the effects of the lockdown on gender-based violence are among the factors that may be contributing to higher rates of stress and anxiety among women. Younger women (10–24 years old) in particular have seen their mental health disproportionately affected.
UNFPA Malaysia additionally notes with grave concern that new PDRM statistics echo these regional findings, with females comprising 83.5 per cent of 1,708 suicide cases reported in Malaysia from 2019 to May 2021; more than half of the total deaths by suicide were females aged between 15-18 years. This is particularly concerning as global statistics show that generally males die by suicide three to four times more often than do females. However, over the pandemic suicide rates are now five times higher among Malaysian women as compared with men.
Identifying, discussing and addressing Intimate Partner Violence, given its prevalence and ramifications on women and girls’ mental health, is essential for ensuring it’s not left unchecked, especially in light of the pandemic’s acknowledged burden on female mental health.
Call for action against Intimate Partner Violence
Seeing how gravely IPV can impact the lives and well-being of Malaysians, especially women and girls, UNFPA Malaysia recently hosted the inaugural Intimate Partner Violence Forum August 24th 2021.
The Forum brought together key stakeholders from policymakers to advocates and gender experts, to outline and highlight the urgency of recognising and addressing IPV, especially in light of the pandemic’s disproportionate effects on women and girls.
YB Nurul Izzah’s Opening Address highlighted the need for understanding the root causes for abuse and violence – together with the ordeals, different social and domestic scenarios within which these abuses can occur – in order to formulate effective solutions.
She thus called upon all relevant ministries and bodies including the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, PDRM and all other state agencies to first and foremost recognise IPV, categorise it in their statistics and identify key casualties.
She acknowledged this vital first step in itself will form the basis for Malaysia to start developing the ideal measures and solutions to effectively create a better, safer and more equal country for our Women and Girls.
UNFPA Malaysia’s Gender Consultant, Dr. Rita Reddy provided perspectives on IPV’s components, harm potential and social impact in her Keynote Address “Intimate Partner Violence: The consequences and challenges to responding effectively”
She summarised IPV as a violation of human rights and a major public health problem with enormous social and economic costs. Dr. Rita emphasised that a whole of society approach is needed to raise awareness. Meanwhile, response and prevention efforts must also be multi-sectoral and bring attitudinal and behavioural change. Ultimately, meaningful engagement of communities can help ensure that solutions are available, accessible and acceptable to all.
WAO’s Deputy Executive Director and Advocacy Director, Yu Ren Chung’s keynote address on Legal Provisions and referral Pathways for Intimate Partner Violence victims and survivors served to outline the current infrastructure in place and actionable pathways for victims and survivors in the face of IPV.
The IPV Forum concluded with a panel discussion, during which Dr. Rita Reddy emphasised that pandemic lockdowns have exacerbated IPV due to trapping victims with abusive partners.
Additionally, socio-economic pressures, confined spaces, closure of schools and increased childcare needs led to frustration and flares of temper. Financial entanglement with abusive partners and uncertainty, job strains further compounded situations of IPV.
WAO’s Yu Ren Chung concurred with Dr. Rita and also noted that a health pandemic makes it far more expensive to run services, including shelter services, for IPV victims and survivors which cover pandemic essentials like Covid testing, quarantine, cost of personal protective equipment (PPE), among others.
Ahead of Malaysia’s Budget 2022 announcement, it’s also timely to note that Gender Responsive Budgeting, as outlined in WAO’s Report ‘Better Country for Women’, will prove invaluable in addressing shadow pandemic needs, including those of IPV survivors.
Ren Chung also highlighted the importance of good, reliable and consistent longitudinal data as being crucial for addressing IPV prevalence and attitudes amongst Malaysians, such as through WAO’s ongoing survey in collaboration with IPSOS, to be released at the end of 2021.
StandUp Malaysia’s Rheanne Wong clarified that victim blaming culture is psychologically hard wired in societies globally, but that the pandemic serves as an opportune time to change these social norms and stereotypical mind sets.
Rheanne then elaborated that emotional or psychological abuse can also entail controlling behaviours or “red flags”, especially among younger people. Such behaviour is not only classified as IPV, but is also a dimension of online IPV. This makes awareness education a critical component for ensuring that young people and young women, who are increasingly impacted by IPV, know how to advocate for safe and secure personal relationships.
Intimate Partner Violence is a public health crisis which has proved to be endemic, at an individual, relationship, community and societal level, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, when all vulnerabilities are multiplied.
With IPV affecting women and girls’ physical and mental health through direct pathways, such as injury, and indirect pathways, such as chronic health problems arising from prolonged stress, including depression and anxiety- together with Malaysia’s recent worrying increase in female suicide rates- it is an opportune moment for Malaysia to strategically address Intimate Partner Violence. This will require data on prevalence and patterns which serve as important tools to engage policymakers and civil society to the best of their abilities.
Remembering WHO estimates which indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30 per cent) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is Intimate Partner Violence.
This quite simply translates to: from any group of 3 women and girls, at least 1 has survived or will survive intimate partner violence at some point in her LIFE.
UNFPA Malaysia wishes to emphasise that comprehensive, multi-sectoral, long-term collaboration between governments and civil society at all levels will form the basis for timely intervention on this little-known yet widespread dimension of the global Shadow Pandemic.
Achieving the end goal of a society where all Malaysian women and girls are free of harmful practices like IPV & every form of gender based violence can indeed be a tangible reality. Addressing Intimate Partner Violence through centring our most vulnerable women and girls will ultimately bode well for not only Malaysia’s pandemic recovery but also national development.
To find our more about Intimate Partner Violence check out UNFPA Malaysia’s IPV forum here: https://fb.watch/7ViH1A38Zo/
*This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.