The world witnessed a global pandemic in the year 2020 and more than anything else, it made us realise how imperative it is to have people around you that support you, ones you can talk to and find comfort in. With so many people struggling with their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, we realised the importance of inclusivity and support. The conversation about mental health picked pace, not only in the world but in India as well especially after people got a chance to particularly experience it. However, this pandemic was explicitly difficult for some people when compared to others. As mentioned, the crippling mental state, economic and social burden further lead to increased fights and thus, violence in domestic households increased significantly all over the world. The number of domestic violence cases in India doubled over the lockdown period. Being confined at home with their abuser makes survivors incredibly more vulnerable especially because during the pandemic, or specifically the lockdown, there was no escape. The violence increased worldwide so much so that the world health organisation (WHO) had to declare domestic violence as the shadow pandemic amidst the pandemic. Countries like Russia also circulated code words that could be used to inform pharmacies or other public health centres to seek help. In 2020, between March 25 and May 31, as many as 1,477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women in India. This 68-day period recorded more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years. Statistically, much more women experienced physical violence and abuse during this lockdown period. However, take note of the fact that many cases still go unreported and so many women do not speak up on violence, especially in rural and suburban areas of the country.
While we are continuing this discussion of domestic abuse, it is also to be noted that this phenomenon, however, is gender-neutral. Domestic abuse comes in more forms than physical and sexual, and men or others that do not fall in the binary also experience and have experienced emotional, mental and trauma inflicting abuse in their unhealthy relationships during the lockdown. Even though statistics cannot take into account these factors especially because a majority of men and non-binaries choose not to speak out about it publicly, their presence cannot be ignored. So, while we talk of inclusivity and support, we need to ensure acknowledgement and inclusion of all, irrespective of what our “what other people might say” type of society dictates.
On similar lines, companies have started acknowledging domestic abuse issues and have started devising policies to protect employees from domestic abuse. These policies being adopted by the world are gaining momentum at an impressive pace, with companies in India also becoming a part of the revolution. With a majority of employees working from home, policies of this kind ensure that the wellbeing of employee extends beyond the office level, in other words, to their personal life and home. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) became the first company in the country to adopt policies against domestic abuse, which are expected to be further taken over by many more. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, is expected to be the second company to introduce domestic abuse policies in the country. The said policy ensures to provide monetary relief and protection to employees against domestic violence or emotional, mental abuse beyond their workplace. It also seeks to maintain the confidentiality of the concerned individuals especially considering the hush in the society around survivors of such abuse and trauma. These companies seek to ensure the inclusion of all employees, irrespective of their gender and thus, ensures gender-neutral implementation of these policies. The relief to be provided under these policies to survivors of domestic violence or abuse of any kind include access to urgent medical care, psychological counselling support through employee assistance programmes and local NGOs, paid leave of about 10 days, reimbursement of lodging and boarding expenses for 15 days of the concerned employee, and temporary work arrangement at a company office in another city for a month or flexible work hours.
A statement released by the HR executive director of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), Anuradha Razdan, explained how these initiatives help create a safer environment for employees by ensuring their wellbeing not only in the office hours but beyond that as well, saying “Across the world, there has been a significant rise in the number of reported cases of domestic abuse. We want to stand up as advocates for change that we would like to see in society by proactively putting a stake in the ground and coming up with a policy that calls out to our employees: ‘If you are someone who has faced this and wants to come out and talk, the organisation is here to support you.” Anheuser-Busch InBev’s people director of Southeast Asia and India, Tanushree Mishra, on similar grounds said “The domestic violence support policy was rolled out across the world and is now being extended to India as well. It allows colleagues to take time off and take the support of the organisation if, God forbid, there is any such situation that needs to be addressed.”
Companies are getting increasingly aware of the physical and mental health requirement of employees and are thus taking progressive steps in the direction to ensure the physical, emotional wellbeing of employees and a safer environment in the workplace. One of the worst drawbacks of the pandemic has been the disrupted labour market and the organisations are trying to make sure that the current workforce that is equipped and trained with the company’s needs and culture is not indifferent between working and leaving, not only through the method of offering more than reservation wage but also by ensuring connection and fulfilment of personal agendas. Anheuser-Busch InBev is also working on increasing the paternity leave to four weeks and adoption leave to the members of the LGBTQI+ community. After all, we need to be there for each other, right?