Yangyel Lhaden

The number of people experiencing gender-based violence increased by 53.5 percent last year, according to records with Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW).

Last year, RENEW recorded 373 more visitors with complaints of abuse than in 2019.  In 2019, 696 clients were recorded.

Last year, 1,069 persons experienced GBV, which mean at least 3 persons experienced GBV daily.

Clients are inclusive of the victim and perpetrator, who have availed psycho-social support from RENEW.

Programme officer with RENEW, Ugyen Thinley, said in previous years the only details from walk-in clients at RENEW crisis centre and shelter home of RENEW were recorded.

“During the pandemic, we made several interventions for wider outreach for GBV victims to come up front to us so that GBV does not remain a shadow pandemic,” Ugyen Thinley said.

RENEW set up helpline number-17126353 in May last year and 171 people called to seek help.  The community-based support system was also enhanced and from the dzongkhags 254 individuals were recorded, and from Facebook 45 more were registered.

However, at RENEW crisis centre and Gawailing Happy Home clients decreased by 16.19 percent.  In 2019, 696 clients were recorded and 599 were recorded last year.

Ugyen Thinley said last year more cases were recorded from helpline and Facebook as RENEW crisis centre was closed during the two lockdowns.  More GBV cases were reported during the lockdown.

Of those who sought help from RENEW last year, 365 were female and 234 male.  148 were below 25, and 451 clients were above 25.

They are provided with various services, which are psycho-social in nature including counselling, legal aid, and medical care.  An individual can avail of multiple services.

Last year, 2,530 services were provided to clients, whereas in 2020 2,869 services were provided, which is an increase of 13.3 percent.

During the first lockdown, records with RENEW shows a decrease in services provided, but after lockdown in September the services provided increased by 61 percent compared with September in 2019.

Senior counsellor with RENEW, Kesang Dolkar, said that, during the two lockdowns, those seeking help were provided counselling through phones and were encouraged to visit RENEW after the lockdown.

Kesang Dolkar said that the pandemic had triggered an increase in GBV but the clients had been victims of GBV before the pandemic. “Most victims only report to RENEW only when they had enough.”

She said that gender-based violence among couples would remain a persistent issue as pre-marital counselling was not a trend in Bhutan. “In the last nine years of my career, not a single person availed pre-marital counselling.”

She said most clients’ relationship with their partners improved after counselling.

Many couples, who availed services from RENEW, had trust and communication issues, which lead to various violence such as economic, emotional, physical, and sexual.

The forensics department with JDWNRH recorded 288 GBV cases: 225 domestic violence, and 63 sexual assault.   Of the 63 sexual assaults, 41 victims were minors and 22 victims were adults.

Ugyen Thinley said that the GBV cases are probably higher than reported as there were many underreported cases.

RENEW is looking into presenting the data of GBV as ground evidence for interventions by policymakers and local leaders to prioritise response to GBV victims.