Updated: Oct 5
Netflix show 'The Maid' and the brutal reality of domestic violence in the wake of climate change.
This article is a creative review of the Netflix series “Maid” and how the theme of gender-based violence in climate change and pandemics could disproportionately affect domestic violence victims and solitary caregivers.
“Before they bite, they bark. Before they hit you, they hit near you”. The chilling opening dialogue in Netflix’s new series “Maid” has resurfaced conversations about the practical manifestations of emotional and physical abuse in domestic violence.
“Maid” is a limited series streaming on Netflix, based on the New York Times best-selling nonfiction novel by Stephanie Land. The story is about a young woman in her early 20s named Alex, who decides to move out of her emotionally and physically abusive partner’s trailer with her three-year-old daughter- Maddy - and no money.
The series opens up into ten episodes, each knee-jerking at Alex’s repeated failures, self-denial, and even quantifying the degree of abuse to qualify for seeking help. Millions of people watching the series resonated with Alex’s tiny moments of success in the ocean of failures in breaking free from the cycle of physical, emotional, economic and abuse.
I watched episode after episode, in teary, nail-biting anticipation of a millennial’s journey into single motherhood, and of her recognising and surviving domestic violence in the 21st century. As the series progressed, a chilling notion passed through my mind as another cyclone was wrecking the western Indian coast.. How would Alex navigate in a climate-changing world, through disasters and economic loss?
What do single mothers and solitary caregivers, especially domestic-violence victims stand to lose in the wake of climate-change hazards and consequent social, economic, and infrastructure disasters?
The concern may sound far-fetched right now to a policy professional or political representative. However, this concern for me as a woman in her 20s, working in the climate-change domain in South Asia, resonated louder with each episode. More so each isolating struggle and setback of Alex, was a reality check on what a woman as depicted in the series, possibly faces in the liberal and richest Western country on the planet and the unsettling thought of what other women of colour and outside the global North face
Alex’s journey in the series focuses on survival through food stamps, government aid and housing schemes in finding her and Maddy’s safety, health (“You gotta do better mama”- Ep 5) and freedom. It resonated with the limited success of policy planning, social aid and developmental schemes in violence aid, which in the richest and most liberal west country of the world proved as visibly in the series and the data cited, not enough.
According to data published by United Nations, globally, an estimated 736 million women, almost one in three women in the world, have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their lifetime. This figure does not include sexual violence by intimate partners like marital rape. By September 2020, several countries had domestic violence helplines integrated into the COVID-19 response plans, as domestic violence incidents witnessed a magnum increase during lockdowns across the world. The surge in violence was so bad that by April 2020, UN chief António Guterres called for a ‘domestic violence ceasefire’ amidst the ‘horrifying global surge’.
Globally, about 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence and 140 laws on sexual harassment in the workplace. The World Bank, according to official data, spends about USD 300$ million in funding projects that provide relief, aid and assistance to gender-based violence. With an addition of the United States (US) government in a 2021 white-house briefing, proposing about USD 1$ billion in grants and aid to victims of violence, under the Department of Justice. But what happens when a global pandemic cuts funding to these crucial programs?
Imagine if Alex in the series had no domestic violence shelter as an exit, no food stamps, no government aid to support Maggie’s schooling, no healthcare and no job. This reality was evident when Alex was forced to go back to her abuser due to a family crisis. Take a much more recent example of India during the second wave of COVID-19. Several states diverted and ‘re-appropriated’ capital expenditure from education, infrastructure and related welfare sectors towards the pandemic response fund. On the policy-analytical front, it justified the capital diversion for emergency resources needed to provide oxygen, beds, more health workers and medical aid.
But India witnessed a steep rise in domestic gender-based violence during the lockdown. The National Commission for Women (NCW) recorded a 94 percent increase in domestic violence complaints by women during this time. The numbers were so glaring that domestic violence helplines were integrated into the pandemic helpline in India and other countries. It flagged indicators of the impact a 21st-century global health crisis has on vulnerable groups. Why are we addressing this? For one, it throws me off the edge, even with education and basic-level survival assets, to know that I currently and futuristically belong to the most vulnerable demographic on the planet in times of crisis. The pandemic also made me and several women question the feasibility of child-bearing or child-raising, given the inequitable high stakes, income gaps and risks the entire demographic, especially single women and other vulnerable groups, fall within during a crisis.
Secondly, there is a scientifically established consensus that climate change will affect women more disproportionately than men. Women, globally, are more likely to live in poverty than men, have less access to basic human rights and face systemic violence that escalates during times of crisis and periods of instability. Today, there are 4.4 million more women than men living on less than USD 1.90 $ a day. Women are more prone to face sexual violence, working extra labour hours, and increased childcare duties in displacement camps and informal shelters as a direct result of climate hazards.
Alex’s journey in the series ends with her moving out of her home state with her daughter, which was possible because of her scholarship-funded college acceptance. The hits and misses in her small-business entrepreneurial journey of capital accumulation were a reality check on the entrepreneurship struggles domestic violence victims face. Business failures, as indicated through the series, also become a reason to return to their abusers as dependents.
There is hope for this paradigm. Today there are more numbers of social-sector organisations, especially focusing on climate resilience and mitigation led by women. The shift from women working in unorganised sectors like Alex's to organised sectors is promising. A study has highlighted that women in leadership positions at national, community and local levels- make a considerable difference in better response to natural hazards, disaster management, innovation, food security and natural resource management like fresh water.
We do have a long way to go. Domestic violence transcends beyond personal relationships with intimate partners into professional and political spaces. As of today, only 26 women globally serve as heads of government and state. Only 21% of state delegates for a global climate-change summit are represented by women. The under-representation links the issue to violence and harassment, as 82 per cent of female parliamentarians across five regions have reported experiencing some form of psychological violence while serving their terms.
Alex’s journey may have inspired several people across the world. By October 27, almost a month after its release, it was set to become the largest streaming ‘limited series’ by Netflix, watched by over 67 million subscribers. However, at the heart of it was the resonation of how many Alexs’ could be present, on any given day, navigating incoherent public systems to survive. It is even more concerning today for many seeking an exit from gender-based violence, in an ever-changing climate, a widening income gap, and low women leadership.
The issues, still present as questions and scattered data sets, are essential to help victims. Solutions to gender-based violence are not binary and would require transitional pathways to gender equality and gender equity. It would at the heart of it, require building greater resilience-fairly and collectively- in a looming, climate-changing world.
(Also Read: Climate change hits lower caste women the worst)
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