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“Domestic violence is not simply an argument. It is a pattern of coercive control that one person exercises over another. Abusers use physical and sexual violence, threats, emotional insults and economic deprivation as a way to dominate their victims and get their way”.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 says that any act, conduct, omission or commission that harms or injures or has the potential to harm or injure will be considered domestic violence by the law. Even a single act of omission or commission may constitute domestic violence – in other words, women do not have to suffer a prolonged period of abuse before taking recourse to law. The law covers children also. Domestic violence is perpetrated by, and on, both men and women. However, most commonly, the victims are women, especially in our country. Even in the United States, it has been reported that 85% of all violent crime experienced by women are cases of intimate partner violence, compared to 3% of violent crimes experienced by men. Thus, domestic violence in Indian context mostly refers to domestic violence against women.
WHAT CAUSES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
Studies suggest that violent behavior often is caused by an interaction of situational and individual factors. That means that abusers learn violent behavior from their family, people in their community and other cultural influences as they grow up. They may have seen violence often or they may have been victims themselves. Some abusers acknowledge growing up having been abused as a child. Children who witness or are the victims of violence may learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict between people. Boys who learn that women are not to be valued or respected and who see violence directed against women are more likely to abuse women when they grow up. Girls who witness domestic violence in their families of origin are more likely to be victimized by their own husbands. Although women are most often the victim of domestic violence, the gender roles can and are reversed sometimes.
Alcohol and drugs may contribute to violent behavior. A drunk or high person will be less likely to control his or her violent impulses toward their partner, so keeping such drinking or drug use episodes to a minimum may be valuable for a person living in a domestic violence situation.
Some people with very traditional beliefs may think they have the right to control their partner, and that women aren’t equal to men. Others may have an undiagnosed personality disorder or psychological disorder. Still others may have learned this behavior from growing up in a household where domestic violence was accepted as a normal part of being raised in their family.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
There is enough evidence to support that higher reproductive morbidity is seen among women experiencing domestic violence. Studies conducted in North India have shown elevated odd’s ratio of gynecological symptoms, while comparing women with husbands reporting no domestic violence and women who experienced physical and sexual violence. It may be attributed to the fact that abusive men were more likely to engage in extra marital sex and acquire STDs, there by placing their wives at risk of acquiring STDs. There was also lesser condom use reported among such men.
These make women more susceptible to HIV infection, and the fear of violent male reactions, physical and psychological, prevents many women from trying to find out more about it, discourages them from getting tested and stops them from getting treatment.
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WHY DO WOMEN STAY?
Economic dependence has been found to be the central reason. Without the ability to sustain themselves economically, women are forced to stay in abusive relationships and are not able to be free from violence. Due to deep-rooted values and culture, women do not prefer to adopt the option of separation or divorce. They also fear the consequences of reporting violence and declare an unwillingness to subject themselves to the shame of being identified as battered women. Lack of information about alternatives also forces women to suffer silently within the four walls of their homes. Some women may believe that they deserve the beatings because of some wrong action on their part. Other women refrain from speaking about the abuse because they fear that their partner will further harm them in reprisal for revealing family secrets, or they may be ashamed of their situation.
Violence against women is a violation of basic human rights. It is shameful for the states that fail to prevent it and societies that tolerate and in fact perpetuate it. It must be eliminated through political will, and by legal and civil action in all sectors of society.
ADDRESSING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
An effective response to violence must be multi-sectoral; addressing the immediate practical needs of women experiencing abuse; providing long-term follow up and assistance; and focusing on changing those cultural norms, attitudes and legal provisions that promote the acceptance of and even encourage violence against women, and undermine women’s enjoyment of their full human rights and freedoms.
The health sector has unique potential to deal with violence against women, particularly through reproductive health services, which most women will access at some point in their lives. However, this potential is far from being realized. Few doctors, nurses or other health personnel have the awareness and the training to identify violence as the underlying cause of women’s health problems.
ROLE OF PUBLIC HEALTH PERSONNEL
Domestic violence against women has been identified as a public health priority. Public health personnel can play a vital role in addressing this issue.
Since violence against women is both a consequence and a cause of gender inequality, primary prevention programs that address gender inequality and tackle the root causes of violence are all essential. Public health workers have a responsibility to build awareness by creating and disseminating materials and innovative audio-visual messages, which project a positive image of girl child and women in the society. An integrated media campaign covering electronic, print and film media that portrays domestic violence as unacceptable is the need of the hour. The role of increasing male responsibility to end domestic violence needs to be emphasized.
Programs are required which intend to address battered women’s needs, including those that focus on building self-efficacy and livelihood skills. The significance of informal and local community networks should be acknowledged in this regard. The survivors of domestic violence can be involved in program planning and implementation in order to ensure accessibility and effectiveness. Rather than spotlighting women as victims in non negotiable situations, they should be portrayed as agents capable of changing their own lives. The public health experts have a vital role to play in networking with NGOs and voluntary organizations and creation of social support networks.
The public health experts have a potential to train personnel specialized to address the needs of victims of domestic violence. In the field of research, public health personnel can contribute by conducting studies on the ideological and cultural aspects which give rise to and perpetuate the phenomenon of domestic violence. Similarly, the execution and impact of programs must be assessed in order to provide the necessary background for policy-making and planning. However, the health sector must work with all other sectors including education, legal and judicial, and social services.
“A law is as good as its implementability, despite the lofty aspirations. The responses to the enactment are polarized, with one section fearing its misuse by an elite class in metro cities and another segment predicting its futility for the mass of rural women saddled with the yoke of patriarchy to which courts are as yet alien”
A bill alone will not help in preventing domestic abuse; what is needed is a change in mindsets.
Author: Yashwi Verma
Editor: Kanishka Vaish, Senior Editor, LexLife India.
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