Kulsum Shadab Wahab’s organisation, Hothur Foundation, has played a key role in helping women deal with the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. As we battle the second wave, we are also faced with the Shadow Pandemic, a term coined to highlight the struggles of women against gender-based violence. As executive director at Hothur Foundation, Kulsum’s focus is on helping women and working towards better systems that help victims find help and safety easily. The foundation is also working towards uplifting the economically backward and providing victims with educational, medical, maternity, psychological and matrimonial guidance, and rehabilitation and counselling.
ELLE: You were one of the prominent voices talking about domestic violence during the pandemic last year. Tell us what is happening right now.
Kulsum Shadab Wahab (KSW): Since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data and reports have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. Victims of domestic violence or violence against women such as acid and burn violence often do not report the true cause of the injuries out of shame or fear. This trauma, going ahead without any assistance, leads to multiple mental health issues slowly, paving the path to suicide.
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ELLE: The new term to refer to this is The Shadow Pandemic. What does that mean?
KSW: The Shadow Pandemic is a term coined to raise awareness and to describe the growing rates of violence against women and girls amid the pandemic. Hothur Foundation is currently fighting against this. From medical aid to safe homes and rehabilitation, we help provide a safe space for the survivor of abuse and their families, especially their children. Along with constructive aid to support their basic needs, especially by giving a voice to the survivors of acid attacks and abuse.
ELLE: What are some of the ways in which one can help this cause?
KSW: Implementing better helplines and care facilities that can be easily accessible is one thing we can work on as a country. Moreover, it’s about seeing the smaller signs in people close to you. Recognising a victim and reaching out to help while respecting their privacy is one thing I believe we should incorporate into our nature. Donations to this cause are also an easy way to help build back a survivor to an individual again.
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ELLE: Tell us about your work around #HothurWarriors?
KSW: Nurses and medical staff have become the unwitting heroes of the coronavirus pandemic, as their struggles and long hour shifts sometimes go unnoticed and unpaid due to the current surge and lack of funds. We want to highlight these #HothurWarriors with a constructive plan to help the health care workers in a financial crisis or need.
ELLE: Hothur Foundation has been working in this space for a long time how. Tell us about your journey and some of the challenges you’ve had to face?
KSW: The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. We found out about domestic abuse during the first lockdown, and it is horrifying to see the numbers still multiplying. With so many hands at the foundation, we are now introspecting how we can support women survivors and make them independent. Many victims of domestic violence reached out to us for help. We provide them with medical assistance whenever necessary and psychological counselling to help them recover from the trauma. Some of these cases are brutal, but we are happy they could get to us on time, and we were able to attend to them.
The Covid-19 situation has occupied a lot of our hands at the foundation with all the medical emergencies and increasing demand for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders coming up. The current situation has made it difficult for the survivors to come to us. Along with the risk of the virus, they fear getting caught by their partners.
Currently, putting together safe spaces is a great way to help support survivors of abuse. Implementing hunger drives at poverty-stricken clusters that have been selected through careful research has truly a big achievement. And with the targeted financial support to frontline workers such as nurses and medical staff, we expect to do our part in these current times.
Lead Image: Photograph: Sharad Thakur; Styling: Nirjal Basnet