Experience of working with abused women in India

Published On: April 23, 2018 01:00 AM NPT By: Pratikshya Sharma

Nazma is just a representative of numerous women across the world who have experienced domestic abuse at some point in their life

I have been visiting impoverished community in southern Delhi for the past few months as a part of my master’s fieldwork. I have been trying to understand the social structure of the community and cause behind its several issues, ranging from individual to community level. During my work here, I have come across stories, many of which shed light on deeply rooted social problems in South Asian society, including Nepal.

One such story is of Nazma (name changed), 32, who lives with her husband and three children. She is a housewife. Her husband is a rag picker and the only breadwinner of the family. Her house is in bad shape, lacks basic amenities. In a rather rare interaction with outsiders, she shared that her husband barely interacts with her and the daughters. Nazma said he seems to care only about the son. Moreover, she also has to bear the brunt of her husband’s temper and violent acts which has been going on for a while now. Her husband also warns her to stay inside the house.  This has resulted in her physical and mental trauma.  

Nazma was anxious to seek a solution. She felt socially isolated because she is not allowed to go out of her house and interact with people as her other neighbors do. She fears that her life will end up within the four walls of her house. She has no source of income and her husband holds her accountable for even minor expenses. Nazma feels that she does not have the skills to talk to other people and is scared of strangers. 

Male dominance

Nazma is just a representative of numerous women across the world who have experienced domestic abuse at some point in their life. According to a report published by the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), there were 2,202 cases of domestic violence, 222 cases of polygamy, 242 rape cases, 94 cases of attempted rape, 37 cases of sexual abuse; seven attempted trafficking in persons and 34 witchcraft accusations in Nepal. INSEC reported a total of 2,910 cases of violence against women in 2016. However, one can assume there are many more cases of domestic violence which are not even reported. The numbers are going up day by day and the reports are the evidence that there is no significant yearly decline in violence against women. Our attempt toward reducing gender violence has limited in scope and ineffective in outcomes.

Addressing the issue requires working closely with victims, and recognizing the individual, psychosocial as well as economic imperative of the social ill. One should also look into personal history of those perpetuating domestic violence. There are multiple theories that explain why individuals acquire violent behaviors in relationships. The dominance of male over female which allows men to be in charge of their wives, and social acceptance of domestic violence are the problems our society is suffering from. Albert Bandura, proponent of social learning theory, says that “offenders learn by experiencing or witnessing violence and intergenerational transmission of violence.” For instance, in Nazma’s case, experience of abuse in her family in the past resulted in her acceptance to the present form of abuse. Similarly, her husband might have seen similar behavior among his parents, which makes him feel that his actions are legitimate. 

Various studies also suggest that violence is often caused by the interplay of situation and individual factors. Alcohol and drug abuse often contribute to this issue, as a drunken person is less able to control his violent impulses. On a broader scope, lack of education among women’s group about their rights also adds to woes to violence against women, as they are less likely to have interpersonal conflict management skills, and more likely to be unaware of mechanisms to opt for their rights or report about such abuse. 

Domino effect 

There is several consequence of domestic violence on family, individuals, as well as the broader society. First, victims suffer from psychological, from anxiety and depression to social issues like isolation, and health issues of varied severity. Second, domestic violence seriously affects health and wellbeing children, as they are likely to develop serious emotional, behavioral, developmental and academic problems. Consequently, they are more likely to become abusers later in life. 

Among others, the role of social work professionals, like me, can especially be very effective if we are properly mobilized. Social workers are able to handle short term solutions through interventions, as well as long term solutions through programs tailored at educating and empowering women. Depending upon the nature of abuse, one immediate intervention could be seeking the help of police. However, such interventions are not necessarily always possible, as the victims might not cooperate in reporting abuse to outsiders. For instance, even though Nazma suffered severe physical abuse, as evidenced by the scars on her body, she denied reporting this to the police. 

In this case, family gathering as an intervention allowed the wife to let her husband know her physical and mental distress, and her expectations from him. Besides opportunities for interactions, individual and couple counseling are important. However, more socially impactful solution is achieved only by actively involving the client as well as broader community groups and resource in the change process. I made sure that I had first-hand supporters such as women’s groups and agency workers who would render the help needed. 

Social workers should use holistic approach to plan out the intervention in case of domestic violence. Causes of the issue are deep-rooted and the interventions need to be case-specific, requiring a systematic planning and a proper understanding of the social work process. The process could possibly include not only working with the victim, but also perpetrator and children in the family. Domestic violence is a socially sensitive issue that needs coordinated support and backup from different agencies. It is also important that social workers are well equipped to handle different cases and plan out suitable interventions. This is only possible if social workers have the knowledge of domestic violence and the abuse case law, and have undergone relevant trainings and workshops. Social work is a profession which works beautifully to minimize social ills.

 The writer is a M.S.W student at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India


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