Over the last 30 years or so, most of the females who worked in our house as domestic helps have had a very similar story of being regularly beaten by their alcoholic, abusive husbands. There isn’t no any reason to think that domestic violence is prevalent among lower socio-economic classes though. It’s just that these issues are dealt with a lot more confidentiality and secrecy by the middle or upper classes. Poverty takes the additional layers of shame and taboo away from the people of lower socio-economic groups.
“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
Quite surprisingly, the majority of these women continue to live with abusive partners, in spite of enduring lifelong physical violence. When inquired about their choices (or the lack of it) in putting up with these extremely difficult situation, the answers they provided were usually –
“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!”
Though the reasons might appear to be predominantly economic, there are many social, cultural and psyco- social factors behind one’s choice of living 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 very popular in India. These women are considered as ‘ideal’ wives and daughter-in-laws for several reasons. For hundreds of years society ignored the dangerous caveat in this ideal system – when a woman and her kids are completely dependent on a man who turns out to be a wife beater, she has absolutely no choice but to live with the monster who considers himself as her master, not her spouse!
Millions of women are forced to live with their abusers only because of the sustenance and survival of their children and for themselves. It’s extremely sad that women are not brought up to be equipped with the skills needed 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 a result of lack of alternative options, and continue to live with abusive partners.
Sruti’s story is a classic example of to what extent patriarchal societies can be detrimental for women. Sruti was a young mother of three little children who used to work for us in Bangalore as a 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 torture she had been enduring for years!
In my helpless attempt to try to understand why she was doing this to herself, and also to make her realize that she should not be with that man even one more day, 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 he is alive, no matter what he does to me, I am bound to go back to him as he is my husband. My family or community will never accept me or support me if I leave him.”
Not only in India, millions of women all over the world are forced by their families and communities to live with abusive, violent partners even when they are economically capable of looking after themselves.
Fear of being alone
Patriarchy teaches women that they are not enough on their own, they need a man around to protect them and look after them. Many societies feel women should have a ‘guardian’, whose role is to control them, ‘teach’ them lessons when they are wrong and provide them with material needs. Regardless of age, educational and professional background, women are conditioned to be dependent on someone! They are also conditioned that they need a husband to be complete. In such communities, women are raised in a way so that they are not emotionally and psychologically equipped to deal with the complex , cruel and unsafe world on their own.
The reality that women’s safety and security are not ensured anywhere in the world, combined with their lack of confidence in their own ability and lack of exposure to the outside world adds an extra layer of barrier in their 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, women at large, do not feel safe or comfortable enough without a man around – even if the man is abusive. There is a proverb in India,“known enemies are better than unknown friends”. The extremely sad truth is that women feel being beaten or raped by husbands is better than being molested, raped or harassed by outsiders! That’s what, they fear, is going to happen when they are on their own and prefer to live with abusive partners instead.
What is the solution?
This multi-fold but highly relevant problem doesn’t have a simple solution. Solving this issue needs participation and intervention of different stakeholders. Reporting domestic abuses to the authorities is not even an option for many women. Some countries don’t have any laws to protect women from domestic violence. Sometimes women fear retaliation, which, combined with the lack of support and protection from the government and societies stop them from taking any legal action against their abusive spouses. Governments should make policies to financially support unemployed women and children affected by domestic violence. Families, society and educators should realize the importance of women’s economic participation and raise them to be confident, independent and citizens who learn to step up for their own rights and safety.