Yangyel Lhaden

Home isn’t always the safest sanctuary.

Covid-19 might have kept families safe indoors, many a home has a different story to tell.

It is the eleventh day since the government announced the nationwide lockdown and Respect Educate Nurture Empower Women (RENEW) and Community Based Support System recorded 32 domestic violence cases, mostly from Bumthang and Wangdue.

A day before the lockdown, a woman who was “emotionally” abused by her husband came to Thimphu to seek RENEW’s support. She and her two children found shelter in Gawailing Happy Home.

In another case, a 24-year-old woman was also given shelter at Gawailing Happy Home when RENEW was informed she was at higher risk of being sexually abused by her co-workers.

Six women and two children have been taken to the shelter.

Counselling and psychological support were provided to a majority of cases; some cases were referred to National Commission for Women and Children ( NCWC) , Royal Bhutan Police, and Druk Gyalpo’s Kidu Relief Fund.

To address gender-based violence (GBV) and domestic violence (DV) during Covid-19, a plan titled NCWC GBV and child protection emergency response has been developed.

RENEW in collaboration with relevant partners and donors have been able to implement some of the strategies of NCWC GBV and child protection plan, developed advocacy materials to prevent GBV and DV, which is disseminated through various platforms, create awareness on RENEW services, establish temporary shelter in Trashigang, and helpline numbers to ensure telephone counselling to the survivors.

A RENEW official said that to address DV and GBV was challenging. “It is a shadow pandemic, happening but not seen.”

Officials also said that due to lockdown, reaching out physically was not possible but psychosocial support was given through phone calls to both the victim and the abuser. “It does not work well sometimes, as it puts victim at higher risk as phone calls would agitate the abuser.”

An official said: “We must build strong collaboration amongst the stakeholders and have coordinated and systematic procedures in place for successful service delivery. RENEW is a non-government Organisation working in service delivery at the ground level. Therefore, the policy must empower the service provider and not restrict them from providing services and reaching out.”

RENEW has been providing services including advocacy, outreach, counselling, shelter, legal and medical aid through various platforms.

“There is a greater need to address such social menaces to build positive and mentally strong future citizens. We would encourage people in these times to be more gracious to each other, let’s try to be better people,” a RENEW official said.

Preventing violence at home

An official from RENEW said that the more time people spend together at home, the more likely it was for them to step on each other’s toes.

If an individual is facing any form of violence, he or she should reach out to family, friends, and neighbours or call the hotline numbers.

If a person is at risk for violence, he or she should identify a trustworthy neighbour, friend, family or shelter to go to.

One should also keep essential items such as money, phone, identification documents, medicines and telephone numbers in case of an emergency.

Develop a code with a trusted neighbours is advised so that they can intervene during emergency.

Anyone facing some kind of domestic violence can contact RENEW immediately at 17126353 for services.

“We are at your service please call us and reach out. You Are Not Alone,” a RENEW official said.