Violence against women by their partners is prevalent in all countries, across different socio-economic classes. 1 in 3 women globally faces domestic violence. 1 in 5 women worldwide dies because of intimate partner violence. These are reported data – and we know that there is a huge number of women who can not even report domestic violence. They are forced to live with their abusers. The question remains why can’t so many women escape abusive relationships?
An estimated 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000- 58 per cent) were killed by intimate partners or family members, more than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner.” UN Women
Living with Abusive Partners: The Reality
Over the last 30 years or so, most of the females who worked with us in India as domestic helps had a very similar story of enduring life-long emotional and physical abuse. Most of them never even considered leaving or reporting domestic violence. When I inquired about their choices (or the lack of them) in putting up with this situation, the responses that I received are –
“I don’t have any money of my own”
“He is my husband, how can I leave him?”
“Who will feed my children?”
“My family will never support me”
“How I can survive on my own!”
For women to leave an abusive relationship is not just about a law, it’s about being able to survive once you’ve left abusive relationship. Somewhere to go, an income, not having a social stigma attached to you, not having family and friends say – “Well, you should have just lived with it.”
Though the reasons might appear to be predominantly economic, there are many social, cultural, emotional, and psyco- social barriers for women to live with an abusive or violent partner.
Lack of Economic Independence
Women in all societies were traditionally and ideally seen as homemakers. Preferences for marrying non-working, ‘homely’, ‘non-independent’, and submissive girls are still popular in many cultures. For centuries, society ignored the dangerous caveat in this system – when a woman and her kids are completely dependent on a man, she has absolutely no choice but to put up with a lot of injustice and abuse.
Some women are not brought up to be equipped with the skills they need for economic and emotional independence. When their dreams of having an ideal family or a husband fail, they prefer to surrender themselves to the situation as there aren’t a lot of alternatives.
Millions of women live with their abusers because of the survival of their children and themselves. Social and legal systems in the majority of countries do not provide women with enough support needed to escape abusive relationships, that include housing, childcare, and employment.
Sruti’s story is a classic example of to what extent societal dogma can be detrimental to women. Sruti was a young mother of three children who worked for us in Bangalore as domestic help. She would work very hard to pay the rent, school fees, and everything else for her family as her alcoholic husband would not contribute anything. She would often show up with bruises and swellings all over her face-signs of physical abuse she had been enduring for years!
I tried making her realize that she should not be with that man even one more day. In my helpless attempt to try to understand why she was doing this to herself, I found out a horrific truth about our hypocritical society. She told me “If my kids starve or I can’t pay their school fees, my brothers and parents would help me with some money. If my husband dies tomorrow, they will come and take me back and will look after my children. But, as long as my husband is alive, I am bound to live with him. My family or community will never accept me or support me if I leave him.”
Some families force women to live with abusive, violent partners even when they are economically independent as divorce is still a taboo in many cultures. In many cases, women face retaliation for reporting a crime against their husbands, partners, or other family members.
Lack of Social Security
Patriarchy teaches women that they are not enough on their own, they need a man around them to complete them, protect them, and look after them. Even today, in many countries husbands, are considered legal guardians. His role is to protect her, control her and ‘teach’ her lessons when she is disobedient. There is a huge difference in the power dynamics between a man and a woman. Men often use physical and emotional violence to enforce their power over women.
Regardless of age, educational and professional background, societies expect women to dependent on male family members! In many cases, women also fear dealing with the complex, cruel, and unsafe world on their own. Lack of exposure to the outside world adds additional barriers in women’s lives, while they are already dealing with adversity at home! More and more women are breaking these barriers – facing several odds by themselves. Still, in many countries, being single is just not safe for women. Women prefer to have a husband even when the man is abusive. Regardless to mention the emotional and social ties women share with their partners even when they are abusive, make the decision of escaping an abusive relationship more difficult.
Watch this video below on “Conceptualizations of Violence and Legal Frameworks” From SDG Academy:
What is the solution?
This complex problem doesn’t have a simple solution. Solving this issue needs the participation and intervention of different stakeholders, and addressing the root causes. Raising awareness, education, more inclusive policies to dismantle systemic inequalities, and empowering women to achieve education and economic freedom are some of the basic steps which can help prevent women to stand up against abuse and torture.
Reporting domestic abuse to the authorities is not even an option for many women. Some countries don’t have any laws to protect women from domestic violence. Fear of retaliation, lack of support, and protection from societies stop them from taking legal action. Governments should make policies to financially support unemployed women and children affected by domestic violence. To protect women from gender-based violence and abuse, societies must treat women as independent and important citizens who can step up for their own rights and safety. Isn’t it unfortunate that we ended up creating a social system where the home is the most dangerous place for many women? But fleeing violence at home is not even an option for them because governments can not ensure their safety and security either!