Accomplished women in India face higher risk of domestic violence: study
Women in India who are more educated than their husbands, earn more or are the sole earners in their families face a higher risk of domestic violence than women who are more dependent on their partners, according to a new study.
Much of India is still deeply patriarchal and there are wide gaps in the status of men and women. And this form of violence could be a way for men to reassert their power or maintain social control over their wives to preserve the “status quo” in the relationship, said the study’s author Abigail Weitzman.
Weitzman, a graduate student at New York University, looked at data from the female-only module of India’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS) collected between 2005 and 2006, concentrating on married women.
The study found that compared to women less educated than their husbands, women with more education face 1.4 times the risk of violence from their partners, 1.54 times the risk of frequent violence, and 1.36 times the risk of severe violence.
The study appeared in the latest issue of the Population and Development Review, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Population Council, an international non-profit organization that conducts research on development issues.
“The result of such violent responses may in turn prevent some women from pursuing employment or greater earnings opportunities either because they have been injured or because the material benefits of such opportunities no longer outweigh the physical costs at home,” the study said.
Here are edited excerpts from an interview with the author:
Q: Are you surprised by your findings?
A: The truth is I’m not surprised. I became interested in this research because of theories that suggested that women who resist gender norms often face consequences for that resistance. Before I started researching this topic in India, I was researching in Latin America. My interest is not unique to India, but more about emerging markets and places where women are really beginning to enter the labour market full-force.
Q: Why do you think this type of violence happens?
A: I’m sure you are familiar with the idea that violence can serve as a form of social control; for a way for people to maintain the status quo. In this particular case, I think perhaps men are accustomed to the power that their resources can buy them in a relationship. I don’t mean to imply in any way that I think men are power hungry, but rather that they are used to being able to make decisions because they have earned the money and that buys them a certain privilege in the household. And when women start to challenge that power by having their own resources, perhaps it is perceived as threatening to men and one way in which some men are able to reassert their power or maintain that status quo is perhaps through using violence.
Q: What does the finding say about men in India?
A: I think everywhere in the world, there are some men who are more likely to hit their wives than others. I do not think that domestic violence is unique to India, and I certainly don’t think that this phenomenon is unique to India.
Q: But if it’s about asserting authority or maintaining status quo, don’t you think culture plays a role, especially in patriarchal societies like India?
A: I don’t believe this is unique to India, like I said. The one unique aspect that makes the case about India different than, say, Latin America or the United States, is the issue of divorce. In the United States or Latin America, divorce is more common. And it’s possible that women may use it as a way to escape an abusive relationship in other countries perhaps more than in India because divorce is less common and less socially acceptable.
Q: If successful women are at a higher risk of domestic violence, should we then have second thoughts about how institutions are trying to empower women, or consider modifying the initiatives being undertaken in this regard?
A: We should be supplementing those efforts with additional efforts to protect women as we move towards change. So I suggest making psychological counselling available or increasing the number of domestic violence shelters, especially in urban locations where micro-credit programmes or vocational programmes are concentrated.
Q: Are there similar findings in other countries?
A: There are other studies that find similar things in Thailand. There are numerous studies that have similar findings in the United States even where divorce is common; and there are also qualitative studies in Latin America that suggest something similar as well, especially in Colombia.