The recent death of a 23-year-old woman who was gang-raped on a
commuter bus in New Delhi has momentarily called the worlds
attention to an all-too-common occurrence in India. Perhaps there is
an opportunity for others to benefit from this young womans tragic
For the past 15 years, I have been researching the links between
gender inequalities and womens health in India. During the course of
this work, my team and I have documented hundreds of womens stories
stories of family violence, of quiet resistance and resilience, of
romantic dreams transformed into the mundane realities of housework
and the numbing pain of marital abuse and rape.
In a national representative sample survey in 2005-2006, 2 in 5
married women between 15 and 49 years old reported experiencing
physical, sexual, or psychological abuse by their husband at some
point in their married lives. More than half of the young married
women (16- to 25-year-olds) whom we recruited from slums in
Bangalore to participate in our study reported having ever been hit,
kicked, or beaten by their husband. Nearly 80 percent reported
physical, sexual, or psychological abuse perpetrated by their
husband or another member of the family. The scale of violence
against women by those most intimately related to them is
The physical and mental health impacts of violence against girls
and women across India are myriad and include under-nutrition,
unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, gynecological problems, sexually
transmitted infections, social isolation, poor self-esteem, low
perceived quality of life, depression, and suicidal tendencies.
In our study in Bangalore, 2 in 5 young women who reported
experiencing violence had contemplated or attempted suicide.
Moreover, the adverse impacts extend across generations. Infants
born to mothers who experience violence are more likely to be born
pre-term, have low birth weight, and to die within the first 28 days
of life. Witnessing family violence in childhood increases the
likelihood that a girl will experience violence as an adult and that
a boy will grow up to perpetrate violence against his intimate
partner perpetuating the cycle of violence and ill health.
Yet women are not silent victims. Although a large number of
women do accept violence as part of their lot in life or put up with
it for the sake of their children or because they perceive no
alternative, many seek support. All too often, they are rebuffed and
silenced by the government, communities, and even their families as
India and the world have seen repeatedly in recent days.
Violence against girls and women is a fundamental violation of
human rights. It is imperative that the Indian government,
communities, and families respond. As noted extensively in the
media, awareness and implementation of existing laws to protect
girls and womens rights (and there are several in India) must be
ensured. Critical services law enforcement, health, and allied
supports need to be readily accessible to women.
The public health sector has a key role to play. …