As countries take steps to curtail the spread of COVID-19, we are bracing ourselves for another dark and gloomy winter. Many countries have chosen complete lockdowns, while others have sufficed themselves with some precautionary measures, hoping to avoid the detrimental economic impact of another all-encompassing lockdown.
Whether one agrees with a lockdown policy, or with partial closures is debatable. What is certain is that, since the pandemic started economic growth regressed, throwing us all into an abyss of recession that will endure after coronavirus is controlled..
The World Bank in June 2020 expected that, “every region is subject to substantial growth downgrades. […] These downturns are expected to reverse years of progress toward development goals and tip tens of millions of people back into extreme poverty”.
On the level of individual households, families have been suffering from dwindling incomes, with many people becoming unemployed. The choice between going out of the house and risking getting sick, or staying at home, and facing hungry children has become a daily reality for many.
The fact that most schools have closed their campuses, offering remote learning places further pressure on strained families. In the midst of all the uncertainty, one member of the family is required to step up to this insurmountable challenge, and come up with innovative solutions to maintain a sense of normalcy in an overcrowded, underfunded and stressful environment that is the home: the woman.
Women take care of household chores, keep track of their children’s education, work if they are employed, care for sick family members and most importantly nurse her husband’s ego, bludgeoned from the worsening economic situation.
A woman’s role has always been central to the home. However, acknowledgment and respect for this centrality has always been elusive. The dire economic situation caused by Covid-19 has left its indelible mark on the entire family, but most of all on women who find themselves responsible for sheltering their families from the winds of a pandemic that blew away entire economies.
Some women would like to receive flowers for their efforts, some a simple thank you, most want a break, and an unlucky few just want to live.
The number of domestic violence cases have risen with the mounting pressure resulting from the economic situation. Recently, a man killed his wife inside the school where she worked and smoked a cigarette over her dead body. Another man threw his wife from the balcony because she had Covid-19.
UN Women recently published a brief enumerating causes and recommendations for governments and individuals to combat violence against women. The report rightly highlighted the role of financial constraints to increasing domestic violence.
Though, I fully agree that financial stress can cause friction inside the family, I don’t believe it’s the only culprit. I believe the main cause for domestic violence is far more enshrined within the feminine/masculine dynamics, and more enduring than the transient financial situation. The main problem is the frail male ego that can only sense its strength in the absolute domestication and subservience of the female one.
For some men their enforced presence inside the home due to unemployment, or lockdown has alienated them because they feel out of place. Consequently, they lash out in fits of rage that in some extreme cases can lead to tragedies as mentioned. In those situations it is up to the woman to mitigate the potential danger that can befall the entire family through reassuring her husband that he still holds the power; that he is still useful; that he is still a man.
In reality women have always fulfilled the role of inflating the male ego through submission, and through shrinking ourselves to make men look better. If a woman is too smart, too successful, too ambitious she is cautioned, and usually by other women who tell her that she scares men away, and that’s why she can’t find a husband.
The current situation didn’t create the rift between husband and wife. It highlighted the existing inequalities that have always existed. It manifested the narrative, beyond the fog of women’s emancipation, which we have unconsciously accepted as an absolute reality for ages that a woman’s sole purpose is to please her man in every way.
We can’t simply blame the pandemic for the rise of domestic violence; we must blame ourselves first for providing the necessary conditions for it. We must stop teaching our daughters that a good woman is the one who keeps her house together at her own expense, and that she must dwarf her achievements to avoid scaring men, and that divorce is a stigma that can’t be erased or forgiven.
We must ensure as we provide support for domestic abuse victims, that we don’t create a new generation of victims.