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Poverty And Domestic Violence

By Aditi Paul

27 January, 2010

A specific area of violence that has generated considerable concern is violence between two adults in an intimate relationship, referred to as “domestic violence”. Stories and studies from 1970s and 1980s era provided us with a vivid picture of the battered woman, her assailant, and their relationship. Frieze (2005) notes that Leone Walker’s 1979 book, The Battered Woman, was the most quoted book on marital violence through the late 1980s. This book portrayed battered women as helpless victims of male abusers, and claimed the motivation for men was a patriarchal desire for control.

Domestic violence perpetrated by partners and close family members on women has long been a matter of silent suffering within the four walls of the home. According to Dr. Susan Hanks, Director of the Family and Violence Institute in Alameda, California, men batter because of internal psychological struggles. Usually, men who batter are seeking a sense of power and control over their partners or their own lives, or because they are tremendously dependent on the woman and are threatened by any moves on her part towards independence. Some men batter because that's the only way they know how to be close to or relate to a partner. Some men grew up in violent households, where they watched their mothers abused by their fathers and where they themselves were abused. Some men become violent under the influence of drugs or alcohol, although the substances themselves do not cause the violence.

For this reason projects have been implemented that contribute to an understanding of domestic violence prevalence and factors associated with it. Some common conclusions have been derived regarding the problem of domestic violence: Domestic violence was found to be all-pervasive among all women but varying in volume and frequency across class, age and education level. Further inequalities existing in the household, as represented by education and employment gaps between husbands and wives, were linked to domestic violence. The impact upon the survival of the household economy was found to be significant as well.


Efforts to escape violence can have devastating economic impacts. Leaving a relationship might mean a woman will lose her job, housing, health care, child care, or access to her partner’s income. Often criminal and civil legal remedies are necessary to safely leave a relationship. But women are at highest risk of injury or violence when they are separating from or divorcing a partner. Women can be very intimidated by a partner and the consequences of her leaving. It takes a long time for a woman to give up hope in a relationship and to recognize that the only way she can be safe is to leave him. Also, legislation, policy, services and advocacy often focus on physically separating the battered woman and her children from the abusive partner, but do not guarantee a home, food of health care or an opportunity for long-term financial stability. And anti-poverty schemes focus on increasing economic resources and access to program without addressing the impact of violence on family’s basic human needs and do little to prevent a partner to harm the wife’s job.

Poverty reduces options for battered women. Safety planning strategies require significant life changes like, moving, separation or divorce. Some require extensive use of the civil legal system to obtain orders for custody, child support or protection. Woman must be able to financially support herself and her children after she leaves her abusive partner. In many locations there are programs that provide housing and temporary cash assistance, child care and free legal representation. However, most of these programs have limited funding, offer short-term resources. As a result some low-income battered women simply are without the income, government support, or access to services necessary to fully implement safety plan.

Low-income women also face multiple levels of bias and discrimination that reduce options for safety and financial security. For example, some landlords may not want to lease an apartment to single mother or to a woman whose rent is subsidized by the government. In general, women living in low-income neighborhoods have fewer employment and economic opportunities.


> “Rights” are valuable to individual freedom but does not take into account issues of gender justice within the family and community. It fails to shed light on the role of women as primary victims of poverty as they voluntarily give up their own rights to nutrition and health for their family members.

> Ill-health is one of the major factors besetting poor women. The most telling statistic is the increase in maternal mortality in the last decades. Gendered differences are reflected in patterns of health and illness around the world. The lack of nutrition and resources combined with increased pressure on their multiple gender roles due to other family members’ ill health and changing economic opportunities make poor women more vulnerable and more likely to delay treatment. For example, HIV-AIDS are faster common among majority of poor women. Poor women’s lack of control over their sexuality and fertility makes them far more vulnerable to HIV-AIDS and other STDs.

> The culture of some rural communities can make it more difficult for women to seek help. Communities where men and women tend to stay in traditional roles, where people avoid asking for help, and where there is less awareness of domestic violence and its impact on victims and children are communities where it is harder for domestic violence victims to seek out the resources they need.

> Rural domestic violence victims are in more isolated locations and may have difficulty accessing health care and other services due to lack of transportation or poor weather and road conditions. Emergency response time is often slower in rural areas. In addition, some rural homes do not even have telephone service to request emergency assistance.

> A shortage of health care providers is a constant challenge, particularly when addressing survivors of domestic violence who may need physical or mental health treatment to recover from the effects of abuse. Rural residents are more likely to be underinsured. Lack of insurance limits victims' abilities to seek either primary or mental health care for injuries, depression, or anxiety.

> Domestic violence survivors may be in need of legal assistance but in rural areas, it can be more difficult to find an affordable lawyer or legal aid. Law enforcement and the courts in rural communities may be less familiar with issues of domestic violence and appropriate responses.


Amartya Sen (1999) has rightly quoted, ‘nothing arguably is as important in the world today in the political economy of development as an adequate recognition of political, economic and social participation and leadership of women. This is indeed a crucial aspect of “development as freedom.” Some women may say, "Well, he only did it when he drank. He was acting that way because of some things I did or said. If I change things just a little bit he might stop. He just got laid off from his job and he was depressed, and that's why he's acting out this way. Once he gets a job he'll stop." There is always a "reason", and these are all excuses; it doesn't matter what the reason, he doesn’t have the right to hit her. This is the key. It’s very hard sometimes for women who are caught up in these situations to be clear about that.

What is challenging now, is to see how at a time when women’s empowerment, human rights, gender equality have been endorsed by international community, the current economic climate is trying to shrink the national states so that resources required to put in these agendas are withdrawn. What strategies can then be promoted for women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation in today’s market crisis, continued structural adjustment, cuts in welfare state and globalizing market all disrupting the provision of reproductive health, education and medical services for poor communities and especially for poor woman and girls.

Aditi Paul is currently pursuing a masters degree in International Studies from Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.


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