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Why do women stay?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Multiple factors contribute to women continuing to be with their violent partners, especially in the Indian setting. Dr Prakriti Poddar offers some solutions

There exist absolutely horrifying real-life accounts of intimate partner violence (IPV), especially in India, where society and family values are deep-rooted in various outdated cultural belief systems and traditions.

Intimate partner violence is largely understood as physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and/or and controlling behaviours perpetuated by a person over an intimate partner. The global burden of IPV is overwhelmingly borne by women.  However, it would not be right to state that men are the only perpetuators.

IPV victims are usually under severe mental and emotional stress and many a times lead a traumatised life and end up being psychologically affected.

IPV: A glimpse

The problem overwhelmingly affects women the world over, which is evident in the data presented by the World Health Organisation (WHO). As per WHO, around 35% of women in the world have been physically or sexually abused in some form or the other. Globally, it is estimated that male intimate partners have committed 38% of women’s murders.

The Indian scenario is reflective of the world’s state. As per the latest National Family Healthy Survey Report, around 33% of ever-married women have faced physical, sexual, and emotional or spousal violence, with at least 30% facing physical violence, 14% emotional violence, and 7% sexual violence.

While internationally, more than 50% of physically abused have never sought help from formal authorities or service providers, in India, less than 14% of women have sought help to stop violence.

Not being exclusive for women, a significant number of men also are impacted by IPV, which includes both heterosexuals and homosexuals. In a study conducted amongst 320 men, around 46% admitted to experience some form of IPV, including controlling behaviour.

Factors behind IPV

A victim of IPV may have undergone physical violence of various degrees; forced sexual intercourse or sexual coercion; emotional or psychological abuse which includes intimidation, humiliation, threats; and controlling behaviours which include ensuring the partner is isolated from family and friends, keeping a close watch on partner’s movements, restricting access to employment, finances, education, or medical care.

A number of factors lead to IPV, which can be broadly categorised as individual, relationship, and societal factors. Overall, IPV is a larger demonstration of power politics and show of control and authority.

Individual factors include young age, lack of education, exposure to harmful drugs and alcohol, history of abuse, and personality disorders.

Relationship factors include dissatisfaction and conflicts with the partner, patriarchal value systems in the family, financial challenges, extra-marital partners, low level of social standing for men.

Societal factors include inequitable gender norms in society, poverty, weak legal framework and community acceptance against IPV, lack of women’s civil rights, inequitable and restrictive marriage laws, as well as regressive and outdated cultural practices.

Why women don’t leave

Multiple factors contribute to women continuing to be with their violent partners, especially in the Indian setting. Women with violent partners suffer high levels of depression, are under constant fear, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and low self-esteem. The following factors play important roles in continuing in an abusive relationship:

Mental conditioning in accordance with outdated patriarchal values. From a very young age, the way females are mentally conditioned is as secondary and as subservient to the male counterparts.  Men are assumed to have the first right on the woman’s body, sexuality, and decision-making.  It is expected for women to keep up to the abusive nature. Often women are held responsible for the abusive nature of their intimate partners, which ingrains guilt feelings and self-blame.

No alternative recourse In Indian society, patriarchal values are ingrained in women from birth. From the time girls develop their understanding they are groomed to become ‘good wives and mothers’. Most families refrain from educating the girl above grade 8 because they believe ‘pankh nikal jayeenge’. (‘She will find her wings’). For a woman, focus on independence is taken away, therefore focus on things such as skill development, art and earning a livelihood are secondary. The wedding becomes the way of getting handed over from one patriarch setting to another, leaving no alternative recourse if things don’t go well in either of them.

Lack of financial support Having existed in an ecosystem which is secondary to that of the men’s, often women are left without any financial support, devoid of assistance from the parent’s side or the government’s side.

Social pressure and stigma Societal shame and other forms of societal pressure also contribute immensely in perpetuating abuse and limiting options for women, forcing them to stay in an abusive relationship. The stigma of being a divorcee is more for women than men.

Calculated assessment to ensure self-protection The fear of the worst for them and for their children make women take calculated measures to devise strategic adjustments for co-existing with abuse.

Cycle of violence Women often fall prey to the cycle of violence which includes building up of tension, verbal abuse followed by physical attack, a period of remorse and apology, followed by loving gestures to make up for the abuse.

Finding the way out

Adopting the right approach as an individual is one solution to these challenges.

However, at Poddar Wellness, we share some short-term and long-term measures to better the situation, with reprogramming of traditional thoughts and reconstruction of inner resources to build up personal success. In fact our foundation (Poddar Foundation) deploys training at the ground level to the economically weaker sections.You can use these strategies to create short-term and long-term success.

Short-term measures The short-term measures include that women are guided and counselled to begin creating a financial safety net by opening bank accounts, direct savings, connect with community women bodies; develop a safety plan which includes keeping essentials such as keys, purses at hands’ reach; identify supporting individuals amongst family, friends, or peers and keep their contacts handy; identify emergency shelter outside and inside the house as it becomes important to get away from the scene of violence; and most importantly seek counselling to manage trauma.

Long-term measures These are to drive a larger change.

Introduce value systems of gender equity for both men and women in educational systems, homes, policy making, workplaces, and society. This will trigger behaviour change in present and future generations of men with better sensitivity and respect towards women and their individuality, making them equal stakeholders of the relationship.

Build a supportive ecosystem for abused partners through public private partnership in each district for the victims to come for help, counselling, guidance towards legal assistance, and support if they want to part ways with their spouses.

Strengthen the legal framework Domestic violence laws and other related legal provisions need to be carefully looked at for ensuring the legal tools are rightfully used. There is a need to resolve the cases through fast-track courts and due relief is meted out to the victims.

Have a supporting financial sector which gives additional support to women, single mothers and divorcees with due riders. The objective is to help the economically weaker and affected sections function independently and with reliability.

Depending upon situations and nature of the spouse, it would help if the spouse can be included in a conversation that involves seeking counselling or a calmer way of settling differences.

Dr Prakriti Poddar is an expert in Mental Health, HR, Corporate and Education upliftment. She is Director, Poddar Wellness Ltd. and Managing Trustee of the Poddar Foundation

Short takes

Intimate partner violence is largely understood as physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and/or and controlling behaviours perpetuated by a person over an intimate partner.

The global burden of IPV is overwhelmingly borne by women.  However, it would be not right to state that men are the only perpetuators.

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