Opinion | Lockdown: the golden opportunity for abusers, by Sirine Bougacha, Tunisia

Lockdown: the golden opportunity for abusers. 

Friday, 20 March 2020, the Tunisian government announced a nationwide lockdown starting from Sunday the 22nd until April the 4th. This lockdown was declared to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak but things did not turn as planned. As everyone had to stay at home with their loved ones, others had to stay at home with their abusers. Wives, daughters, sisters and even mothers were threatened and put face to face 24/7 with their harasser. Even though the Tunisian government has been putting a lot of plans and strategies to combat domestic violence against women for years, the number of beaten women has increased enormously in the first few days of the lockdown



Spending a whole day with your family for 14 days straight may be hard and no one can deny that, especially with the current situation that the whole world is going through. But nothing will ever justify violence either moral one or physical one. Unfortunately, and in a lot of Tunisian cities, men take off all of their anger and stress on their wives or sisters. Women in these situations are considered as an easy target.

Ibtissem, a 26 years old woman is one of many others that went through the consequences of staying at home with her abuser, also known by the law as “her husband”. This was not the first nor second time that this young lady has gotten beaten up by her harasser. What hit different this time is that he kidnapped his own son after beating her up and escaped from the house. Frightened, Ibtissem decided to go straight to the police and report what happened to her. Instead of helping, the policeman just laughed in her face, ordered her to go back home and respect the lockdown saying that nothing bad can happen to her son as he is with his father. This type of behaviour is regrettably repeated many times, since women in our culture are usually the ones blamed if they get beaten by their husbands or even if they sue them. Our society is always defending the male and his actions. If these scared women are not protected by the law nor by those who implement it, who will.

Like many other countries, Tunisia has put up a hotline, so that women can call in if they get beaten up. Last year from March the 23rd until April the 7, they received about 32 cases but this year the number has multiplied by 7 to become 225 during the same period. These are only the women who dare to call and to protest against their abusers but in reality, the number is much bigger. Besides, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women, Family, Children and Elderly Affairs, the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development has launched an online campaign “#Makch_Wahdek translated in English “You are not alone” to spread awareness and to present solidarity with women who are subject to domestic violence. The association even offers psychological help if needed in addition to juridical help, if the woman decides to sue the abuser then.

 Asma Shiri, the minister of Women, Family, Children and Elderly Affairs decided since the beginning of the lockdown to put women and their kids in special shelters if their lives are in danger at their home. 

The lockdown has been extended until April the 22nd and will probably be more extended and this only causes more violence against women. But this does not mean that we have to give up. We still can come up with other solutions. For example, why don’t we follow the Spanish government and use a code word for women in pharmacies or even their local supermarket so that they can report what happens to them? It is also crucial to keep on spreading awareness and encourage women to sue their abusers. We should never excuse such behaviour. 

In brief, this kind of behaviour will not disappear into thin air and certainly not all at once. On the contrary, it will only grow bigger if not penalized by the law. But, by spreading awareness, offering help to women in need, respecting the law and trying to change the ‘boys will be boys’ mindset we will improve. Together, we can flip the scale and reduce the numbers of violated women, especially during this critical period of time.

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