Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

State Gender Inequality, Socioeconomic Status and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in India: A Multilevel Analysis

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

State Gender Inequality, Socioeconomic Status and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in India: A Multilevel Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is an important public health concern that has recently received much attention, deservedly so (Garcia-Moreno et al. 2006; Heise & Garcia-Moreno 2002; Watts & Zimmerman 2002). While the negative health consequences of IPV include obvious outcomes such as trauma and murder, the impact is much broader influencing mental illness, psychosomatic illness, poor health-related behaviors, poor birth outcomes, suicide, and diseases such as asthma and gynecological morbidities (Ackerson et al. 2007; Campbell 2002; Heise & Garcia-Moreno 2002; Kumar et al. 2005; Stephenson et al. 2006; Subramanian et al. 2007; Sudha et al. 2007; Vizcarra et al. 2004). A recent WHO-sponsored multi-national study found that in each of 15 sites in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, and Tanzania, at least 15% of women experience physical or sexual IPV and in one site (Ethiopia) the estimate was over 70% (Heise & Garcia-Moreno 2002). Prevalence of physical IPV among women in India has been reported to be approximately 40% (Kumar et al. 2005) which would place it among the countries in the study with higher rates of violence.

By its nature, IPV is a difficult issue to study as measurement of IPV relies on abusers, the abused, or some close witness to report what is often conceived as a highly personal and stigmatized condition. Research in societies marked by relative gender equality may conceptualize IPV in terms of sexual violence, such as unwanted sexual activity (Vest et al. 2002), or psychological violence, such as controlling a woman's daily activities (Hathaway et al. 2000). In societies marked by gender inequality, including India (Krishnan, 2005a, 2005b), such measures may be seen of less value in IPV research. Additionally, in India, where a substantial portion of men believe they are justified in physically hurting their wives in certain circumstances (Martin et al. 2002), research using men's reports of their own abuse against women may not be accurate. This notion is further supported by research showing that Indian men are consistently more likely to report that their wives have high levels of autonomy, a characteristic closely related to reduced levels of domestic violence, than are the wives themselves (Jejeebhoy 2002).

Research over the last decade has emphasized the importance of socioeconomic circumstances and contexts for individual health (Diez Roux 2001; Kawachi & Subramanian 2007; Subramanian et al. 2002). There is currently a large body of empirical research that shows an association between socioeconomic status and several health outcomes (Braveman et al. 2000; Braveman et al. 2005; Epel et al. 2004; Marmot 2002, 2007). Similarly, impoverished neighborhood conditions have also been shown to lead to poorer health outcomes (Berkman & Kawachi 2000; Diez Roux 2001; Kawachi & Berkman 2003; O'Campo 2003; Pickett & Pearl 2001; Sampson 2003). Even though the importance of socioeconomic status has been documented in qualitative investigations and community-specific studies of IPV in India (Koenig et al. 2006; Krishnan 2005b; Martin et al. 2002), few systematic analyses have investigated the potential impact of socioeconomic status on IPV in India.

In addition to socioeconomic status, demographic characteristics such as caste and age at marriage are theoretically motivated predictors of IPV. While public discrimination against individuals according to caste is prohibited by the Indian Constitution, discriminatory social practices continue to be practiced (Krishnan 2005a). Although programs to alleviate the historical discrimination experienced by legally-defined scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes have had some impact, the majority of individuals in these groups have lower living standards, less access to education and employment, and in the case of tribes, tend to live geographically and socially separated from members of the general classes that control the majority of India's economic and governmental institutions (Bhengra et al. …

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