Although Divorce is legal, it doesn’t mean it happens very often. The cultural stigma that comes along with divorce is very profound, much more so than in the US.
If a woman chooses to end her marriage, the odds of her remarrying are very low; she becomes socially ostracized.
India is still a largely male-dominated society, driven by the idea that the man is the head of the household. Women are typically encouraged, if not required, to take on, and keep, the role of the housewife.
According to Abigail Weitzman of New York University’s research, “women may be dissuaded from entering the labor force or seeking superior earning opportunities in the future.”
This is discouraging news in such a modern world, where increasingly diverse forms of labor are necessary. In her article, Weitzman notes that her concerns are “Balance of resources in relationships,” “Why this does matter,” and “Correlations to domestic violence.”
Researchers wonder if a more equal balance of power could lead to less violence in the average Indian household.
Balance of Resources in Relationships
Many women in India are pressured into staying at home and raising the family while the men go to work, but women have the ability to use their status as a homemaker as a bargaining chip in the home.
If a woman’s husband is abusive, she can threaten to leave and make a life on her own. However, because the divorce rate is so low, the odds of that threat being believable to the husband is similarly low. According to McElroy and Horney, in research published in the 1981 International Economic Review, “[s]uch threats are more likely to be perceived as realistic when a woman is employed, highly skilled, or otherwise not financially dependent on her spouse.”
Weizman argues that women who seek to break that dependency often see increased conflict within the household: “The possible threat of having one’s access to resources restricted leads the partner with less to accommodate the partner with more.”
Why This Does Matter?
Women who have a degree or a better education and work challenge the cultural norm in India: These are perceived as a threat to the male’s position as the primary breadwinner, which often leads to violence.
Unfortunately, if a woman wants to leave an abusive home, she will find it difficult to make it on her own. According to Kalmuss and Straus in research published in 1982 in the Journal of Marriage and Family, “Once dependent, non-employed women are more vulnerable to violence because they lack the resources to survive on their own.”
Since divorce rates are low, Weizman contends that, “…policies aimed at reducing intimate partner violence should emphasize alternatives to divorce, such as shelters and support groups.” If there were better resources for women who are stuck in an unsafe home, then the chances of violence in the home could decrease, and the threat of a spouse leaving might have some credibility.
Correlations to Domestic Violence
Although the caste system has been outlawed, there are still social pressures and stigmas that have allowed for abuse to still thrive in India. Weitzman explains that women who were brought up in low income families are less likely to pursue a higher education and more likely to be reliant on their spouse. This reliance can contribute to their susceptibility to intimate partner violence – but women’s education and employment are significant risk factors for intimate partner abuse.
Weitzman’s research tells us, “Women who are in a marriage in which both partners are employed have 1.14 times higher odds of experiencing violence often than women who are non-employed and dependent on employed husbands,” and Weitzman told Decoded Science that, in her opinion, the results of this and previous research are disquieting.
Intimate Partner Violence
As with other societies, additional resources, such as shelters, counseling, and hotlines for the victims of intimate partner violence can help. According to Weitzman, “in general those types of resources are important for women, although they are much harder to provide in a rural setting.“
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