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Intimate Partner Violence in India: Alarming Trends and Accountability measures

Ending all forms of violence against women was recognized as one of the twelve critical areas of concern by the Beijing Platform for Action. The recently concluded “Global 16 Days of Activism”, initiated by Centre for Women’s Global Leadership and carried forward by feminist groups across the world, is a collective campaign that calls to end Gender-Based Violence (GBV) by evolving the focus from awareness to accountability. Among the prevalent forms of GBV, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is one where the perpetrator not only lacks accountability but also enjoys insulation from the law as well as society. 

IPV is the infliction of physical, sexual, or emotional harm committed to establish or retain a position of control/superiority by a partner in an intimate relationship. It is evident from the increasing number of gruesome cases covered by media platforms in recent times that the experience of IPV is not uncommon. This blog piece explores research and evidence on the prevalence of IPV, policies governing its redressal, and the laws instituted for its prevention and justice.  

The global average prevalence of IPV among women is 30 percent according to the WHO report titled “Violence Against Women Prevalence Estimates”, 2018. IPV is prevalent even in developed nations, not just in low and middle-income countries. In fact, the Nordic paradox illustrates that even countries in the region that perform well in gender equality and other development indices report a high prevalence of IPV. According to World Health Organization (2013) estimates, South Asia has the highest regional prevalence of IPV worldwide at approximately 40 percent. 

India ranks 135 out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, an instrument the World Economic Forum uses. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) has attempted to capture the incidence of IPV within India for married women since 1992. NFHS categorises IPV into three kinds: physical, emotional, and sexual violence. Physical abuse is easier to discern than the other two forms. According to the fifth and the latest round (2019-21), the incidence of a “lower” degree of violence on married women – being pushed, slapped, punched, or hair pulled etc. – is approximately 27 percent; approximately 8 percent of married women experience it in “higher” degree which includes being dragged, strangled or threatened with knife/gun, etc.; and around 6 percent married women report facing sexual abuse like physically being forced into unwanted sex acts etc.; and 13 percent face emotional abuse which includes being humiliated, tortured insulted or threatened with harm by the husband. Thus, IPV can take a wide range of forms perpetuated by several factors including socio-cultural and economic aspects. 

NFHS data finds that the incidence of IPV is lower for women with better access to resources required for well-being and growth, like access to education, household wealth, and information. For instance, with increase in the level of education, the incidence of all the three forms of IPV decreases. The largest decline is seen in physical abuse of less severe form across most of the aforementioned factors. For example, the incidence of abuse for women with no education is 36 percent and it falls to 13 percent for those who obtained higher levels of education. Similarly, living in urban areas reduces the chances of abuse by 7 percentage points as compared to those residing in rural areas. Also, belonging to the richest quintile as compared to the poorest, leads to a fall in the incidence of abuse by 20 percentage points. However, these are assumed to be gross underestimates of reality because of the under-representation of the richest quintile in household surveys.

Apart from the socio-economic background, intergenerational violence impacts the level of incidence of violence. Intergenerational transmission of violence means that children of violent offenders are more likely to commit violence. If men are exposed to household violence, the incidence of violence increases by 11 percentage points. Women are more likely to face and accept violence if they have witnessed the same; in this case, the incidence of IPV increases by 33 percentage points. 

Also, NFHS collects information to gauge the normative behaviour of married couples. It asks questions targeted to both husband and wife to understand whether beating the wife is justified in different scenarios such as: if she goes out without telling her husband, if she neglects children, if she argues with her husband, if she refuses to have sex, and if she burns food. Women face 21 percent more abuse by their husbands if they accept being beaten and the incidence of violence by men increases by 8 percent if they justify beating their wives.

While these forms of violence may be categorised differently for the sake of data collection, they can be committed all at once. For example, denial of physical intimacy by women in romantic relationships might lead to emotional manipulation or disregard for consent by men. If women resist, physical and sexual violence might follow as a response to the woman’s defiance. This way men escalate the violation of women’s autonomy and establish control. Contrary to popular belief, frequent expression of care, concern, and love doesn’t necessarily mean an absence of violent behaviour. All these acts coexist and are indicative of larger societal issues and deep-rooted hegemonic masculinity that creep into intimate spaces which go unreported. 

The normalisation of these crimes and victim-blaming by society makes it harder for women to speak up and report it officially. In this context, there is a slew of schemes for the upliftment and empowerment of women, but little effort is directed towards working with the perpetrators of violence i.e. there isn’t enough engagement with men and boys, and the issues caused by convoluted ideas of masculinity prescribed by patriarchal norms. The cultural acceptance of IPV that stems from the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies in intimate relationships effectively results in condonement of male violence. There is an urgent need to focus on assigning accountability to the perpetrator and strengthening the legal system to provide sufficient recourse and a conducive ecosystem where women can report cases of IPV without facing negative consequences. 

IPV is a complex issue because of the nature of the relationship the woman shares with the perpetrator. Ad-hoc solutions to such problems do not help in reducing these acts of violence. Instead, there is a need for policies, practices, and awareness generation around IPV. One of the biggest challenges is working towards the social acceptance of victims of IPV and holding the perpetrator accountable at the same time. There have been instances where even law enforcement agencies like the police play a reconciliation role. Therefore, bringing about shifts in social consciousness is critical. 

There is a need to take concrete steps like gender sensitisation at different levels – families, communities, educational and state institutions for awareness generation, developing infrastructure like mental health centres using trauma-informed approaches that are pertinent for supporting women in need, and introducing methods of counselling targeting the perpetrators in order to end the cycle of violence. The frequent call for empowering women cannot exist in isolation and needs to be backed with substantive measures being taken to overhaul policies, legislations, criminal codes, reformed police systems, and infrastructure required to address IPV. 


Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, the data in this blog piece is drawn from NFHS 5. 

Aparna G, a Research Associate with IWWAGE, is engaged in studying female labour force participation. Her research interests include applied microeconomics and intersectional political economy.

IWWAGE Bi-Monthly Seminar: Women and the Future of Work

IWWAGE Bi-Monthly Seminar: Women and the Future of Work

Ms. Sabina Dewan, the co-founder of JustJobs Network joined us on 19th October 2022 to present and discuss “Women, Work and Digital Platforms”. She outlined the current state of women’s workforce participation globally and in India, discussed how digital platforms and gig economy have impacted their workforce participation and the key challenges that exist, and concluded with providing recommendations on improving the work offered to women through these platforms. The key discussion points of the seminar were as follows:

1. Context

    1. Despite a great amount of efforts and funding, global averages of FLFPR are declining, gender-wide differences are pronounced and consistent across both the global north and south. The pandemic has deepened the existing differences.
    2. Women’s participation in the workforce experienced a U-shaped distribution, where the less educated and skilled women are highly employed in low-skill sectors, mid-level educated and skilled women have low levels of employment and highly educated and skilled women have high levels of employment.
    3. India’s FLFPR also shows dismal trends, the country ranks 135 globally as per the Gender Gap Index (2022)
    4. There is a need to question the ‘structural transformation’ happening in the female labour force participation. The service sector that women enter is extremely heterogeneous. The work that women are transitioning into requires deepened focus.
    5. There are both supply and demand side factors affecting women’s participation that need consideration while examining the transition. Where the supply-side factors include:
      1. longer duration of education,
      2. lack of access to technology,
      3. skills,
      4. social security,
      5. infrastructure

    And the demand side factors are:

      1. quantity of jobs,
      2. quantity and quality of jobs available to women,
      3. employer propensity to hire women

2. Digital Platforms and the Gig Economy

    1. Digital platforms are now considered to boost both income and the FLFPR, which include:
      1. E-commerce such as Amazon and Etsy enabling women to work-from-home and realize their entrepreneurial talent
      2. Services, which is two-pronged and includes delivery services like transport, home-care, personal services and, web-based work.
      3. Online platforms, using social media as marketplaces
    2. It is important to question if these platforms can be leveraged to be of high-quality and be gender inclusive, and how the women involved in the work are actually faring.
    3. Women were attracted to these opportunities due to its flexibility, autonomy over the work undertaken, income generated, and representation. However, over time, the opportunities did not completely do well on these factors. Women’s time poverty, limited choice of work, reduced social capital, and limited to no social security dampened the early enthusiasm.
    4. In the platform economy, women are working on a different set of tasks, where the opportunities for women and their willingness to work are not stagnant or consistent.
    5. While 8% of the world’s platforms are concentrated in India and 1/4th of the global share of the online workforce exists in India, the size of women employed in the gig economy is also not currently estimated.
    6. Aggregate trends of structural transformation don’t mean much if the quality of work provided to women doesn’t improve.

3. Recommendations

  1. Women and data: Bridging the invisibility of women in data by accessing platform-level data. Currently, no regulation mandates them (platforms) to share it, and there are no data sharing and transparency norms. Further, institutions, policies and regulations take longer to adapt than how the labour market is transitioning. Therefore, the data is always lagging.
  2. Acknowledging socio-cultural barriers: as long as they are not addressed, long term disparities within the labour force will continue to persist. Data-gap cannot be considered as an excuse to not act on the apparent.
  3. Supportive ecosystem is necessary for women to succeed which includes: gender-sensitized policies, safety at work, addressing time poverty, incentives to access high level skills, social security, political participation and leadership. Gender insensitive infrastructure needs to be addressed to bring firm changes in the current FLFPR.

The session ended with a fruitful discussion from all participants who joined in the seminar, both on the web and in-person.

Watch the recording here:



Link to the presentation