The financial difficulties of the pandemic, combined with social isolation measures during Azerbaijan’s anti-coronavirus lockdown have led to a sharp spike in domestic violence cases, anti-domestic violence advocates warn.
Sevda (not her real name) took refuge in a woman’s shelter in Baku after being abused by her husband. She says her marriage has become intolerable during the pandemic.
‘Staying home every day made our relationship worse. Because of the quarantine, he became more aggressive because he couldn’t go to work. He was addicted to drugs and treated me and our children badly’, she said. ‘At least now we consider ourselves safe.’
Sevda is far from alone. The head of the Clean World Women’s and Children’s shelter, Mehriban Zeynalova, told OC Media that since the pandemic began, the number of domestic violence cases has doubled, if not tripled.
‘The main story we see in the appeals made to us is that during the quarantine period, families with financial problems are forced to stay at home all day together and relations deteriorate’, she explained. ‘A man who can’t solve the problem is angry with the woman.’
Worse still, she said, as the numbers of domestic violence cases grew the restrictions on movement and social distancing rules have made it difficult for victims to reach out to them.
Violence and social isolation
Psychologist Jamila Rahimli told OC Media that one of the leading factors in the increase of domestic violence can be attributed to the ‘increased fear’, ‘social isolation’, and ‘stress’ from the amount of time families had to spend together under lockdown.
While some families, she said, ‘spend this period supporting each other and strengthening their bonds’, for those families with unresolved or unaddressed issues, physical violence was more likely to happen.
‘If the perpetrator has a history of physical violence, if the attitude to physical violence is wrong in advance, if he has impulse control disorders, antisocial personality disorders, or [struggles with] substance abuse, the incidence of physical violence in these families increases with the pandemic’.
No ‘substantive’ response
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that in 2019, 196 people were victims of domestic violence, in the first quarter of 2020, this figure was 54 people.
Elgun Safarov, a member of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children, told OC Media that despite there only being a ‘small’ increase in reported incidents of domestic violence over the past several months compared to last year, Azerbaijani authorities have taken the issue seriously.
In particular, he highlighted a new online resource that will allow families who have access to the internet to access free psychological help as well as legal assistance.
He added that in accordance with a new plan to prevent domestic violence recently adopted by the Azerbaijani Government, further projects are being developed, though they will only be adopted by the end of the year.
Gender researcher Nurlana Jalil, on the other hand, is less sanguine about the government’s role in tackling the problem. Jalil told OC Media that during the pandemic, no substantive or inclusive programme was implemented to aid victims of domestic violence.
‘Neither city police departments, hospitals, nor the Ministry of Social Protection have established special hotlines for the problems faced by women during the quarantine period, nor have emergency services or other measures been organised for women victims of violence’, she said.
‘Based on our monitoring, we can say that none of the decisions taken in connection with the quarantine period in Azerbaijan and the support funds created cover women at risk, women with disabilities, or LGBT individuals.’
She added that beyond domestic violence, the burden faced by women due to the closure of schools must also be recognised. Women carry out ‘76.2% of daily household chores’, including care for the sick and elderly. Without state-sanctioned child care during the day, women experienced a ‘double’ burden, she added.