Published: March 29th, 2020 Updated: March 29th, 2020
Around the world, as cities have gone into lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus, the mass efforts to save lives have put one vulnerable group more at risk.
Women and children who live with domestic violence have no escape from their abusers during quarantine, and from Brazil to Germany, Italy to China, activists and survivors say they are already seeing an alarming rise in abuse.
In Hubei province, the heart of the initial coronavirus outbreak, domestic violence reports to police more than tripled in one county alone during the lockdown in February, from 47 last year to 162 this year, activists told local media.
“The epidemic has had a huge impact on domestic violence,” Wan Fei, a retired police officer who founded a charity campaigning against abuse, told Sixth Tone website. “According to our statistics, 90% of the causes of violence [in this period] are related to the Covid-19 epidemic.”
The increased threat to women and children was a predictable side effect of the coronavirus lockdowns, said activists. Increased abuse is a pattern repeated in many emergencies, whether conflict, economic crisis or during disease outbreaks, although the quarantine rules pose a particularly grave challenge.
“It happens in all crisis situations,” said Marcy Hersh, a senior manager for humanitarian advocacy at Women Deliver. “What we worry about is just as rates of violence are on the rise, the accessibility of services and the ability of women to access these services will decrease. This is a real challenge.”
In many countries there have been calls for legal or policy changes to reflect the increased risk to women and children in quarantine.
In the UK, Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality party, has called for special police powers to evict perpetrators from homes for the duration of the lockdown, and for authorities to waive court fees for the protection orders.
Published: March 16th, 2020 Updated: March 16th, 2020
“I was taken on the pretext that I was going for a fun outing,” says Masooma Ranvali. “Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the most horrible moments of my life. It was done very surreptitiously.”
Ranvali, who was seven years old at the time, says her grandmother took her to a dark, dingy building in India where she was immediately ordered to lie down on the floor by an elderly lady.
“I remember it very clearly,” she tells The Independent. “I was like, ‘Why should I lie down?’ But my grandmother pulled me down. She opened my legs and pulled down my panties. I was sobbing. It was brutal. The woman then took a blade or a knife to cut a part of me. It was painful. I know I came home and cried with my mother. I was small and innocent. I was in pain for about a week after.”
The 52-year-old, who is a survivor of female gender mutilation (FGM), says she blocked the memory out for many years due to being expressly forbidden from talking about the issue and there being a “shroud of silence” around it in her community.
Her warnings come as Equality Now, a non-government organisation which promotes the rights of women and girls, found official data on the global prevalence of FGM released by Unicef, which claims it affects at least 200 million women, “woefully” underestimates both the nature and scale of the issue.
The report, shared with The Independent ahead of its release date, found there is growing evidence that FGM takes place across the world, in numerous countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North America and Latin America.
Divya Srinivasan, who wrote the report, says: “We are missing out on counting large groups of women and children who have undergone FGM. For example, after Indonesia conducted a national survey to estimate FGM prevalence for the first time, Unicef’s global estimates jumped from 125 million to 200 million.”
Srinivasan, an Indian lawyer who specialises in women’s rights and works for the south Asia branch of Equality Now, argued a dearth of accurate data can lead to governments being reluctant to tackle FGM and ignoring the issue.
FGM, internationally recognised as a human rights violation, refers to any procedure that intentionally alters female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure, which can cause a lifetime of severe health problems and pain, is often carried out without anaesthesia.
“It is a very painful, bitter, and scary memory,” Ranvali adds. “I did not speak to anyone. That includes my mother and sisters. As a child, it was very isolating. As a child, it was an inexplicable and horrible phenomenon. It has to do with the genitals which is something nobody talks about. It is that part of your body which is hush hush. It is a shameful area. It makes you feel like your genital area is dirty and like there is something wrong with you which had to be cut and removed.”
“In my thirties, I read about the practice in Africa,” she adds. “It rang a bell in me. I thought, ‘Isn’t this what we also do? Isn’t this what happened to me?’ That was a horrible and painful moment. In my forties, I decided to break my silence. I had a young daughter who was not cut but I had the realisation that not everyone is as lucky as her. My daughter’s generation is also being cut.”
Ranvali, who says “100 per cent” of her generation has been cut, argues FGM is carried out to control women’s sexual urges to ensure they do not have premarital sex or extramarital affairs due to the procedure making sex more painful.
“The clitoris is the part of female anatomy where sexual pleasure is,” she adds. “To control your daughter you have to do it. There is this unsaid fear. It is fear sold to parents of girls that you have to be careful and if you do not do this then you will have trouble in your hands. It is part of patriarchal notions.”
Dr Tasneem Perry, who is also from the Bohra community, says she has hazy memories of the day she was subjected to FGM in a private GP clinic in Sri Lanka but can recall that her father accompanied her to the doctor.
“It was unusual for my father to come,” the 42-year-old explains. “I was seven. I have had a year of counselling and I still have not got this memory back.”
Dr Perry, who says the procedure was carried out in a medical setting despite the practice being illegal, did not become aware of the fact she had been cut until she turned 16 or 17 and asked her mother about what had happened to her.
She adds: “My need to talk about it is to prevent another girl from going through what I went through. If you belong to the Bohra community FGM is a requirement. The dichotomy is the community is very open, liberal, educated and well-integrated.”
Dr Perry, who now works as a teacher, says as she got older she started to question what normal sex would be like and started to feel a profound sense of loss. Her mother would cry when she brought it up with her as she got older, she adds.
“I remember feeling that whatever had been done to me had been done to make me a suitable wife,” she says. “It fuelled my desire not to conform or marry within the community. I had confused feelings of anger and discomfort. It was all this buried emotion – unarticulated frustrated rage. The year before last I finally had a physical examination at the doctors and a specialist said I have no visible clitoris. I feel like a part of me that makes me completely whole was taken away from me. I have lost something I can never replace. The grief will never go away.”
Published: February 10th, 2020 Updated: February 10th, 2020
Mohammed Abdul Shakur, 46, spent years on the run after killing 26-year-old Juli Begum and daughters Anika and Thanha, aged five and six, on New Year’s Day 2007
An abusive husband will be sentenced on Thursday for murdering his estranged wife and their two young children.
Mohammed Abdul Shakur, 46, spent years on the run after killing 26-year-old Juli Begum and daughters Anika and Thanha, aged five and six, on New Year’s Day 2007.
Following a trial at the Old Bailey last year, Shakur was found guilty of carrying out the murders at the family home in East Ham, east London.
The court had heard the couple had an arranged marriage in Bangladesh when Ms Begum was 19 but Shakur was repeatedly violent towards his wife and did not like their children much because they were not boys.
Published: February 10th, 2020 Updated: February 10th, 2020
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – It’s time to shatter the silence around violence against women in the Kurdistan Region. That’s the message of an exhibit that opens Monday in Erbil and is both a memorial to the women killed in 2019 and a tribute to the people working on the front line helping Kurdistan’s women.
“We don’t talk about rape. We don’t talk about honour killing. We don’t talk about violence, because it’s taboo,” explained artist and activist Dashni Morad, the driving force behind the HERStory exhibition.
That taboo comes from the culture, Morad believes. “For decades, especially in an Islamic-dominated region… the honour of the woman is the honour of the family, the brother, the father.” If a woman does something deemed damaging to the family’s honour, “there’s an unspoken code of ‘take care of it’” and the community will turn a blind eye to the crime, she said.
Published: July 22nd, 2019 Updated: July 22nd, 2019
Yasmin Khan, director of The Halo Project, argued that the criminalisation of forced marriage and the build-up to it led to more prosecutions and the decline since then was due to the issue being put on the backburner.
The campaigner, whose national charity supports victims of honour-based abuse, said the decline in prosecutions and convictions stemmed from a lack of awareness about the issue within both the police and the judicial system.
“There is a total lack of awareness among public bodies – the police, local council, health, education, and social services,” she said. “They do not know what signs to look out for and are not asking the right questions. Honour-based abuse causes long-lasting trauma and psychological impacts. We need to do all we can to help victims who are suffering sometimes years and years of abuse.
“We need to break the cycle so they don’t suffer in silence. There are serial offenders of honour-based abuse who have one victim after another in that family.”
A spokesperson for the CPS said: “Honour-based abuse is an incredibly complex crime and we know victims need extra support to help us successfully bring cases to court.
“We have agreed a joint protocol with the police to make sure investigative teams are using best practice and victims feel supported and protected.We can only charge cases that have been referred to us by police but where our legal test is met, we will not hesitate to prosecute.”
Published: July 22nd, 2019 Updated: July 22nd, 2019
Exclusive: ‘Perpetrators are not being held to account. The fall in prosecutions is massively concerning given more victims than ever are coming forward. It sends a message to communities that you can almost get away with it’
Convictions for so-called honour crimes perpetrated against women have plummeted in the past five years, The Independent can reveal, amid a nationwide crackdown aimed at bringing those responsible to justice.
The offences include coercive control, forced marriage and subsequent repeated rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), assault, threats to kill, attempted murder and even murder itself.
Figures from the Crown Prosecution Service show that successful prosecutions for crimes of honour-based abuse fell from 123 in 2013-14 to just 71 in 2017-18.
In an acknowledgement of the problem, a national campaign was launched this week – at the start of the summer school holidays – that saw police officers descend on airports across Britain to question families travelling to and from countries where the practices are prevalent.
Published: July 19th, 2019 Updated: July 19th, 2019
Police are visiting airports across the country in an effort to prevent children being taken abroad for forced marriages.
Operation Limelight is running over the school holiday period, from 15 July to 19 July, and will see police and Border Force officers visit airports across England and Wales.
They will be training airline staff to identify the signs of forced marriage to boost reporting to the police. Intelligence is also being used to identify victims who are about to leave or have just returned to the UK, police say.
“Forced marriage is a violation of human rights,” said Commander Ivan Balhatchet, the National Police Chief’s Council lead for forced marriage. “The isolation, threats and violence that victims experience means that this is not something that can be tackled by police alone.”
The operation is being run in partnership with children’s charity the NSPCC and the Freedom Charity, which works to eliminate forced marriage.
Commander Balhatchet added: “I urge anyone with concerns around forced marriage, or any other harmful practices affecting our children or vulnerable adults to come forward and tell police. We will treat each individual case sensitively and confidentially.”
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity said: “We know it’s when potential victims are more likely to be taken abroad by their families to attend a wedding, not knowing that it is their own.
“Once someone is abroad it can take a great deal of effort to get them back to the UK safely and so this operation at airports is vital as it’s the last chance to save someone from a forced marriage.”
Published: June 30th, 2019 Updated: June 30th, 2019
Two teenage sisters who feared being victims of female genital mutilation and forced marriage were only rescued after they contacted the Foreign Office begging for help.
The teenagers were taken out Bethnal Green academy by their mother in July 2016 — 16 months after Shamima Begum and three classmates left the same school to join the Islamic State terror group in Syria.
The two sisters were repatriated almost a year later after texting the UK Government’s Forced Marriage Unit stating that their passports had been confiscated and they were being abused at their new boarding school in east Africa.
Six months after they first went missing the sisters managed to contact friends on social media, saying they were being held against their will and “enrolled at a school where they were being beaten”, according to an independent report into the case.
The government did not become aware of their plight until four months after the girls first raised the alarm.
The report found: “The two sisters were removed from school by their mother and taken to [the East African country]. There they were enrolled in a school where they were to be de-westernised.