Dear United Nations: Do not Call for a Ceasefire. It is not a Shadow Pandemic. Address It From The Root.

Kirthi Jayakumar
Posted April 27, 2020 from India

The Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called for a domestic violence “ceasefire” amid “horrifying global surge.” The UN Women declared the widespread prevalence and rise in gender-based violence as a “shadow pandemic.” Even as global attention to the rise in the number of cases of domestic violence targeting women is definitely important, and that the highest authorities in the United Nations are addressing it through their rhetoric, the words they’ve chosen are problematic at best. And it matters, tremendously.

The language of war

The call for a “ceasefire” against domestic violence is a patent use of the language of war. It refers to a “temporary suspension of fighting,” in its simplest meaning. In a more detailed examination of the term, one understands that it refers to the temporary stoppage of war, wherein each side agrees with the other to suspend aggressive actions. A successful ceasefire may be followed by peace agreements – but from World War I to today’s Syrian Civil War, one has seen more instances of ceasefire violations and resumption of war than instances of comprehensive peace.

To call for a ceasefire against domestic violence is tremendously demeaning at best. In effect, the Secretary General has called for a temporary suspension of domestic violence. The natural corollary implies that the suspension is temporary, and that the situation may continue. Casually calling for a temporary suspension of a grave threat to the life of the person facing domestic violence does not solve any dimension of domestic violence. Primarily patriarchy and structural violence manifesting in the form of gender-insensitive and inadequate laws, non-responsive or inadequately responsive security sector agents, cultural and, in some households, religious practices, as well as economic and social factors come together to constitute the enabling environment for domestic violence. During times such as an armed conflict, a natural disaster, or something unprecedented like COVID-19 and the lockdown in response to it, the larger socio-political realities enhance the enabling environment. There is an automatic increase in the number of instances of violence in such situations.

By not addressing the structural violence, and relying on war rhetoric, the Secretary General has effectively downplayed the seriousness of domestic violence and structural violence. Domestic violence is not war that you call a ceasefire for. The survivor has no agency in the dynamic, as violence is used to control their minds, bodies, economic capacities, and mobility. It is not a battle that you hold off on to return to later: it is a human rights violation that simply must stop once and for all, instead of a temporary let up.

Shadows and Pandemics

The UN Women chief, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka referred to the rise in domestic violence world over as a shadow pandemic. The use of the word “shadow” in a context like this seems to emulate the use of the word in the context of a shadow report – which stands for an alternative or supplementary report. A pandemic – if COVID-19 hasn’t already made it clear – is a disease that is prevalent over a wide geographic area that could be anything from a country or the world at large. The word pandemic is inherently tied to a disease – which is, like COVID-19, spread by viruses and bacteria. Pandemics allude to diseases that – so long as the pandemic suggest – are uncontainable for various reasons. There may not be a vaccine and/or a cure yet, or there may be a vaccine and/or a cure but it may not be sufficiently available in numbers. At the end of the day, a pandemic disease is not a deliberate product of human conduct, and its spread leaves humanity helpless.

Let’s look at domestic violence. Save for rare (in terms of number) cases of pathology that predispose one toward violence, most instances of domestic violence are a manifestation of attitudes of misogyny, patriarchy, and a sense of entitlement over the bodies of the targeted person. It is a deliberate action that is carried out against a survivor for no logically acceptable reason given that there is nothing that can justify or endorse violence and still be morally right towards all parties involved.

By equating domestic violence to a “shadow” “pandemic,” the UN Women has devastatingly failed the community it strives to serve. Yes, it is “hidden,” but it is not an “alternative.” Yes, one does not see it overtly, but that inability to see it is not the failings of those that are targeted but of the structural violence that has silenced those that face it. Yes, it is widespread and exists across cultures and countries and every other stratification that divides society, but it is not a contagion that humankind is helpless about. Domestic violence can be addressed and brought to an end: it is not idealistic to imagine this reality which may take time, but will certainly arrive. It needs a careful dismantling of structural violence and the development of spaces where equality, peace, and justice thrive.

Without addressing these dimensions, the relegation of domestic violence and gender-based violence to something one can call for a ceasefire in response, or to a shadow pandemic is a painful reiteration that gender-based violence is not a priority for our world leaders.

This story was submitted in response to Dispatches from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Comments 25

Log in or register to post comments
Jill Langhus
Apr 27
Apr 27

Wow, Kirthi is on fire!!! You go, girl:-) You're so amazing.

I love everything that you wrote, and addressed. So on point for right now. Too bad you weren't the one in charge. That would shake these old paradigms up. Kirthi for Security General and UN Women Chief!!!

Sinyuy Geraldine
May 01
May 01

Oh yes Jill. Kirthi could and can do the job so well. Dismantling all those old traditions. How I wish.

Jill Langhus
May 02
May 02

Yes:-) Me, too! XX

Dawn Arteaga
Apr 27
Apr 27

THANK YOU KIRTHI! Yes, it is TIME for this global threat to be addressed with the seriousness and gravity it deserves. Standing with you.

Victor Otieno
Apr 27
Apr 27

Thanks Kirthi for your firmness and boldness.Standing with you; backwards never!

Chioma Nwaoha
Apr 27
Apr 27

Thank you for sharing.

We stand with you, Kirthi! Thank you for being a strong voice on this issue.

Jill Langhus
Apr 29
Apr 29

You're back!!! XX

Elizabeth Ziro
Apr 28
Apr 28

Spot on Kirthi, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." We are right behind you

Busayo Obisakin
Apr 28
Apr 28

This is it Kirthi! I agree totally with you that domestic violence has to be addressed to the root and must stop once and for all. I hope our world leaders would see this. Thank you so much Kirthi for pointing it out.
Love
Busayo

Anita Shrestha
Apr 29
Apr 29

Thank you for sharing

Tamarack Verrall
Apr 29
Apr 29

Thank you Kirthi for exposing the flimsy words of "support" from the Secretary General of the UN. As if governments need to address this because more important business is at hand. I so agree that terminology related to war, being used by many governments now and filtering down to news, sources, is sickeningly inappropriate and as you point you so brilliantly, does nothing to help, only diminish and defer. "Domestic violence is not war that you call a ceasefire for".

Your pointing out, too, that "a pandemic disease is not a deliberate product of human conduct" puts the work to end this violence against women back where we need it and undoes the rhetoric powerfully. Big disappointment coming from the UN Women Chief. You give us so much here to go on.
Deep love in sisterhood,
Tam

Frannie Thorburn-Polo

Well said Kirthi, this is a controlling mechanism that has been going on since our societies became patriarchal. In my mind it portrays a sense of male weakness in their inability to control their anger, sexual urges and male egos. Thank goodness not all males have this weakness. Maybe through social media there is a way to educate and promote the difference between a strong male who is in control of his emotions and actions, verses a male who is weak and succumbs to these emotions and actions. It's just a thought. Thanks again for sharing your voice, take care.

Beth Lacey
Apr 29
Apr 29

You are so absolutely right!

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi

Thank you Kirthi for this very strong post. These issues that you have raised need to be addressed and dealt with. You are so on point and i wish your letter can reach the UN headquarters.
Stay safe and be blessed.

MUVUNYI FABIENNE
Apr 30
Apr 30

Wake up and stand up women to rise our voice. We have to denounce the violence against women like Kirthi.
Many thanks for sharing this lines with us dear Kirthi

maeann
Apr 30
Apr 30

Kirthi Hi :) How powerful your voice! I can hear you roar with the words of every details. May this voice be heard and bring wave to the UN.

wanico
May 01
May 01

This so insightful and real. We need to take more concrete measures to terminate domestic violence especially it disproportionate consequences on women. A one- sided ceasefire cannot do that. Thanks for sharing

Sinyuy Geraldine
May 01
May 01

Kirthi, I hear you speak! Brave woman, you sound like a war Lord leadinga great army of women to war, and yes you are! March on to smite the deafened ears of the powers that be, those who have refused to see and to listen to the cries of women against gender based violence. How on earth could such an age long violen e be referred to as a "shadow pandemic"? Oh, no. When you are not in the shoes of another person, you won't know where they pinch. That is the position of the UN women. They are nit in the shoes of those who are subjectex to this domestic violence.
Thanks once again for calling attention to this parodixical call of UN women.

Dirmicit Pyentam
May 01
May 01

You are so on point.

Joshua Konkankoh
May 02
May 02

People in Africa by their nature have more power of mind over matter
Unfortunately in matters of finding responses to the world crisis, no one is looking towards Africa. What a shame.

Sinyuy Geraldine
May 02
May 02

That's true dear brother. There is so much scorn for the African. This is real, I am sorry to say so.

Superb, no word for that

NWANKWO Emeka Johnson

Hi Kirthi
Well spoken
your point are superb
please United Nations needs to hear this because I see solutions from this write up

God bless our efforts always

Chinyere Kalu
May 06
May 06

It's a man's world they say.But how true is this saying? The structures favour the man and so is everything else.
But to have a woman leader who should know better refer to domestic violence as a pandemic is laughable.Pandemics start unexpectedly, everyone runs helter - skelter for safety and experts spend sleepless nights finding a cure.
Who is finding a cure to domestic violence?
Who I ask?
The woman should stand up for herself and speak out.
Nothing can be equated to life.Women should speak out for none else will do this for us.