1 in 3 women in India is likely to have been subjected to intimate partner violence

But only 1 in 10 of these women formally reports the offence

One in three women in India is likely to have been subjected to intimate partner violence of a physical, emotional, or sexual nature, reveals research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Yet only one in 10 of these women formally reports the offence to the police or healthcare professionals, the findings show.

Despite some improvement, these figures suggest that India is unlikely to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-5) 5, which focuses on gender equality and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030, say the researchers.

In a bid to gauge what progress has been made in reducing violence against women, and the effectiveness of domestic violence legislation in India, the researchers drew on information gathered for the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS), wave 4, carried out in 2015-16.

The NFHS has included a module on domestic violence since wave 3 (2005-6), and the researchers included only (ever) married women of reproductive age (15 to 49 year olds), who had answered all the questions in this module, giving a total of 66, 013 respondents.

The women were asked if their husbands had ever subjected them to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and to whom they reported it, with a view to getting help.Background information on a range of potentially influential factors, including educational attainment, employment, household income, and alcohol use, was also obtained.

Most of the respondents (19.5%) were aged between 25 and 29; most (94.5%) were married; and three out of four were Hindus. One in four (25%) was in work and around one in seven (just over 13%) regularly drank alcohol, while nearly a third (just over 30%) said their husbands/partners drank.

The responses show that nearly one in three women in India is likely to have been subjected to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands. Physical violence was the most common form of abuse, with nearly 27.5% of women reporting this. Sexual abuse and emotional abuse were reported by nearly 13% and nearly 7%, respectively.

Around 3.5% of respondents said they had been subjected to all three types of abuse, and nearly 7% had been injured as a result of their spouse’s abusive behaviour.

The types of spousal violence varied by region of the country. But older women; those who were widowed, separated, or divorced; those with little education; and poor women were all more likely to have been subjected to some or all forms of intimate partner violence.

But so too were women who had a job, possibly reflecting a backlash against women’s changing societal roles, suggest the researchers.

Women whose partners were unemployed, or poorly educated, or who drank were also more likely to have been subjected to intimate partner violence. And those who grew up in a household where they had witnessed their father hitting their mother were twice as likely to be victims of spousal violence as those who hadn’t.

Only around one five (22.4%) had told someone about the abuse, but only 13.5% had sought help, with women who had endured sexual violence the most likely to do so (23%). But less than 1% reported the offence to the police (0.5%) or asked a health professional for help (0.1%).

Women living on their own; those who were well educated; those in work; those living in the North of the country; and those who had witnessed their father acting violently towards their mother as a child were all more likely to seek help.

This is an observational study, and as such, can’t infer a causal effect from the findings, but it is the largest and most recent study to report on all three types of spousal violence, say the researchers.

The previous NFHS in 2005-6 indicated a lifetime prevalence of spousal violence among women in India of 37%, they note.

“This shows that there has been an improvement in the attitude of husbands/partners towards their wives over the past decade. However this change is not sufficient to achieve an important target under Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG-5),” they write.

But while the prevalence of intimate partner violence seems to have improved slightly, the willingness of women to seek help or formally report it has worsened, they point out.

“We found that 13.5% of women seek help following any form of violence. The trend of help-seeking behaviour has shown a drastic decline as NFHS-3 reported that about 23.7% of women sought help following violence,” write the researchers.

“Another worrying finding is that less than 1% of women sought help from formal institutions like the police, the law, religious leaders or healthcare professionals,” they add.

“Gender-based violence against women is an important public health problem, which claims millions of victims worldwide. It is a notable human rights violation and is deeply rooted in gender inequality,” they emphasise.

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