Context: The cultural construction of gender has a great influence in acceptance of the violent treatment of women, as a social norm, in India.
Domestic Violence (DV) needs to be understood in its socio-cultural and economic context, as it carries significant implications for prevalence, risk factors, outcomes, and effective ways of combatting this type of violence.
The UN CEDAW reports on India (2014) highlight the persistence of patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes entrenched in the social, cultural, economic and political institutions and structures of Indian society and in the media that discriminate against women. DV, when culturally normalised, culturally-driven and indigenous to the context, can be hard to identify and address.
Notions of masculinity and femininity are closely tied to the regulation of sexuality and sexual “honor,” and women’s sexuality is vigorously controlled. A combination of control over sexuality and the devaluation of women and girls contributes to the high prevalence of various forms of DV.
Magnitude of the problem National Level: The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS – 4, 2016} reports 31.1% of overall lifetime prevalence of spousal violence and 6% for sexual violence in married women aged 15–49 years.
In a population-based study, Koenig et al. found that a 25.1 percent husbands reported having committed one or more episodes of physical violence and 30.1 percent reported committing sexual violence.
There is evidence that the reported domestic violence rate in India may be under-reported as a result of systemic and social barriers.
Factors associated with Domestic Violence: Research studies indicate that factors that predispose to physical violence are child marriage, low socio economic status, childlessness, intergenerational exposure to violence, extramarital relationship, poor coping skills, low self esteem and unstable or violent home environment.
Community attitudes toward wife beating are strongly predictive of domestic violence, with significantly higher risks of recent physical abuse among women residing in communities where wife beating is condoned.
These indicators could be used for identifying men as well as communities that are at a higher risk, as well as possible entry points for intervening, in order to change gender inequitable attitudes and behaviors in young men.
Why the need to focus on Married Adolescent Girls: Several studies have found that married adolescents and young women are at higher risk of DV than are older married women. Much of the marital abuse that women suffer occurs in the first few years of married life (Solotaroff and Pande 2014), and women who marry as minors are significantly more likely to suffer marital DV than women who marry as adults (Raj et al. 2010).
A study on reported domestic violence in the last 12 months among married adolescent girls, conducted by Institute of Health Management Pachod (IHMP), indicated a substantially high prevalence. The findings also indicate that the prevalence of recurrent DV is significantly higher than occasional deviant behavior. A majority of girls that suffer DV do not report or discuss it, even with family members. (refer table)
|Prevalence in %
|Physical violence by husband in the last 12 months
|Frequency of physical violence by husband in last 12 months
|≥ 4 times
|Persons with whom respondents discussed the violence
IHMP’s qualitative research indicates that young men with low self esteem are the ones that exhibit deviant and risky behavior. There is need to explore this link further.
Importance of prevention in addition to regulation and correction
Most interventions implemented in the public and NGO sector are corretive in nature. In order to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence it needs to be prevented. For preventing domestic violence it is necessary to intervene before or immedately after DV is initiated. Once violence is established it is more difficult to modify the behaviour.
In addition to empowering young women to mitigate their risks of DV, it is critical for long term sustainability to work with young men. In particular, in patriarchal contexts like in India, it is critical to address young men’s typically gender-inequitable attitudes ( Das et al. 2014; Landry et al. 2019).
The findings indicate that domestic violence is related to lack of sexual esteem and self confidence in young men, which is at its height just prior to, and immediately after marriage and is often related to performance anxiety and lack of information regarding sexuality. If the concerns in young men are not addressed prior to or immediately after marriage it can lead to the initiation of domestic violence.
There is need to work with unmarried and married young men by providing information regarding sexual health and counselling to improve their self esteem.
Multiple programs exist in India to modify gender-biased notions of masculinity among young men using life skills programs, sports, or other approaches.
A large body of research recognizes the strong rationales behind combining prevention and response to DV with provision of public health services: often health providers are the most frequently-accessed frontline workers in a community, (Jejeebhoy et all, 2014; Pande et al. 2017). Women that experience DV have a higher prevalence of reproductive and sexual morbidity, hence the need for integrated interventions.
Researchers have emphasized the importance of a multifaceted, multi-level approach to sustainably address DV. For an adolescent girl this approach is all the more critical, given the many forms of violence to which she is vulnerable.
Three best practices to address DV are:
- Life skills education for empowering unmarried adolescents,
- Integrating interventions for correcting DV with provision of reproductive and sexual health and rights for married adolescent girls and young women
- Life skills education for boys and young men to influence self esteem, gender attitudes and behaviors
Mahila Suraksha Samitis have been established at the village, block and district levels. These Samitis need to be strengthened, effectively federated, and given more powers in order to provide legal recourse to women and girls suffering from domestic violence.