Gender-based violence spikes in Bhutan

Bhutan saw a 53.5 percent spike in gender-based violence, with at least three people experiencing abuse and violence last year during the COVID-related lockdowns

Mar 22, 2021

Bhutan saw a 53.5 percent spike in gender-based violence, with at least three people experiencing abuse and violence last year during the COVID-related lockdowns.

The figure was released by the Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW), an NGO in Bhutan that provides emergency, comprehensive and integrated services to the survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

The NGO recorded 373 more visitors with complaints of abuse than in 2019, according to Kuensel. In 2019, 696 people reported abuse.

Last year, 1,069 persons experienced gender-based violence, which means at least three persons experienced gender-based violence (GBV) daily, it added.

Of those who sought help last year, 365 were women and 234 male.  While 148 were below 25 years, and 451 people were above 25 years of age, the NGO said.

Many of the victims, and in some cases perpetrators, availed psycho-social support from the NGO.

Ugyen Thinley, Programme officer with RENEW, said in the previous years the only details from walk-in clients at their crisis centres and shelter homes were recorded.

“During the pandemic, we made several interventions for wider outreach for GBV victims to come up front so that GBV does not remain a shadow pandemic,” Ugyen Thinley said.

RENEW set up a helpline number in May last year and 171 people called to seek help.  The community-based support system was also enhanced and from the dzongkhags 254 individuals came forward, and through Facebook 45 people registered, the newspaper said.

Thinley said last year more cases were recorded from helpline and Facebook as RENEW crisis centres were closed due to the two lockdowns following COVID-19 pandemic.  More gender-based violence cases were reported during the lockdown, it said.

They are provided with various services, which are psycho-social in nature including counseling, legal aid, and medical care.  

Last year, 2,530 services were provided to people, whereas in 2020, about 2,869 services were provided, which is an increase of 13.3 percent, the NGO was quoted.

During the first lockdown, records show a decrease in services provided, but after the lockdown, in September the services provided increased by 61 percent compared with September in 2019.

Senior councilor with RENEW, Kesang Dolkar, said that, during the two lockdowns, those seeking help were provided counseling through phones and were encouraged to visit RENEW centres after the lockdown.

Dolkar said that the pandemic had triggered an increase in gender-based violence but some people had been victims of the violence before the pandemic. “Most victims only report to RENEW only when they had enough.”

She said that gender-based violence among couples would remain a persistent issue as pre-marital counseling was not a trend in Bhutan. “In the last nine years of my career, not a single person availed pre-marital counseling.”

She said most clients’ relationship with their partners improved after counseling.

Many couples, who availed their services had trust and communication issues, which led to various issues such as economic, emotional, physical, and sexual.

The forensics department with Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) recorded 644 gender-based violence cases: 225 domestic violence, 356 common assaults, and 63 sexual assaults.  Of the 63 sexual assaults, 41 victims were minors and 22 victims were adults.

Ugyen Thinley said that the GBV cases are probably higher than reported as there were many underreported cases.

RENEW is planning to present their data as ground evidence for interventions by policymakers and local leaders to prioritise response to gender-based violence victims, which is much-needed.

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