As the world celebrates the 16 Days of Activism, including the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, facts and figures from across the world reveal that the fight to eradicate violence against women is far from being won. In Mauritius, where around 1 in 4 women have reportedly faced gender-based violence (GBV), statistics have shown that the number of cases has increased five-fold during the COVID-19 lockdown period. To cope with this new pandemic of violence, the Government of Mauritius has launched a National Strategy and Action Plan to eliminate Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Mauritius.
Gender-Based Violence is a Human Rights Violation
According to the UNHCR, GBV refers to “harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It stems from gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms. It is a serious violation of human rights, and a life-threatening health and protection issue.” These acts of violence, coercion and manipulation can take the form of sexual violence, child marriage, trafficking, female genital mutilation or ‘honour crimes’. In Mauritius, domestic violence is the most reported type of GBV, with 4,243 reported cases in 2019. It can be defined as “a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” Perpetrators often use physical, sexual, emotional or psychological threats to frighten, manipulate or hurt their spouse /partner, and this remains a pervasive phenomenon that cuts across socio-economic factors and demographic factors such as race, age, religion or education levels.
The Political Economy of Gender-Based Violence
Domestic violence has been criminalised through the Protection from Domestic Violence Act in 1997. For the past two decades, successive amendments to this law have broadened the definition of the term “domestic violence” to allow a more adapted approach to the political economy of gender-based violence.
In 2018, a study commissioned by the Parliamentary Gender Caucus with the support of the UNDP considered the root causes of GBV in Mauritius. The “Sociological Profiling of Perpetrators of Domestic Violence” study identified aspects such as excessive alcohol consumption, unemployment, long hours of work, substance misuse, gender inequality within the household, and a higher level of education of survivors, as risk factors and triggers to domestic violence in Mauritius.
A High Economic Cost
Another UNDP Study on “Economic Cost of Intimate Partner Violence” in 2017, found that the aggregated economic costs of domestic violence to the state are about Rs 2 billion per year, i.e. approximating 0.6% of GDP. This includes tangible costs such as expenses incurred by survivors for seeking help from social services; the cost of health care assistance; the loss of productivity; and absenteeism at work. However, these aggregated economic costs do not take into account the psychological suffering of survivors, and the long-term impact on human capital.
COVID-19 has led to an increase in Gender-Based Violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the unique challenges and risks experienced by Small Islands Development States (SIDS) such as Mauritius. Despite constant efforts to adapt the law to reflect changing social realities, official statistics continue to show increases in the reported cases of domestic violence in Mauritius. In 2019, there were a total of seven reported femicides; while in early 2020, three women were killed on three consecutive days by their intimate partners. Despite the low incidence of COVID-19 in Mauritius, the social confinement and economic stressors due to the pandemic have exacerbated existing gender inequities. With the lockdown measures, many women in abusive relationships have been confined with their aggressors and were unable to escape violent situations. According to Statistics Mauritius, this has led to a five-fold increase in the number of cases of domestic violence compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019.
A National Strategy to eliminate GBV in Mauritius.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, like other countries, Mauritius faces difficult public policy choices to ensure socio-economic recovery whilst also fully protecting all human rights. During this time, it is imperative that a people-centred and rights-based approach is at the core of public policy decisions. The National Strategy and Action Plan, launched on 25 November 2020, aims to respond to the unique cultural and institutional specificities of Mauritius. It promotes collaboration across Government and civil society organisations, to work towards the elimination of gender-based violence. The components of the National Strategy have also guided the formulation of the accompanying four-year Action Plan, with activities in 4 focus areas: changing societal norms and beliefs that are against principles of gender equality; putting the needs of survivors first; improving legal remedies and services delivered by public institutions; and monitoring and evaluating progress made.
A Call to Action
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has appealed to all Governments to address domestic violence as an integral part of their national response plans for COVID-19: "Make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of national response plans for COVID-19". Leveraging collective actions by Government, the private sector, NGOs, and religious bodies will form part of a bigger response to the call for action and will contribute to the elimination of gender-based violence.
Working towards achieving SDG 5 – Eliminating Domestic Violence in Mauritius - YouTube