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`Gender Bias Worst Among Nairs, X'ians'

The Hindu
28 April, 2003

Gender disparity is minimal within the Ezhava and Muslim communities while the role of gender disparity in psychological stress is most pronounced among Nairs and Syrian Christians, a study on gender and mental health in Kerala says.

The study, conducted jointly by a team of psychologists and researchers, says that the role of gender disparity in subjective well-being is highly significant among labourers and farmers and that for a man in Kerala, it is less distressing to remain jobless than be a farmer. Among women, subject well-being is highest among students while among men, it is the highest among Government employees. Male government employees have 20 per cent less distress than even students and farmer men and women labourers have the worst levels of subjective well-being.

The study, done by E. Mohamed, president, Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists, S. Irudayarajan, Fellow, Centre for Development Studies, K. Anil Kumar, president, Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists, Kerala branch, and P.M Saidu Mohammed, a consultant psychiatrist, says that subjective well-being showed definitive improvement with education in the case of both men and women and that men consistently have a better sense of subjective well-being across different education levels. Illiterate and barely literate women have lower mental distress as compared to similarly placed men.

According to the study, male members of female-headed families have significantly better well-being than female members of female-headed families and men from female-headed families reported better sense of well-being than men of male-headed families. Women in female-headed families have the lowest mental health compared to other combinations and no significant gender difference exists in mental health within the male-headed families.

As age advances, subjective well-being and mental health deteriorates for both genders; while the process is steady for men, it fluctuates in the case of women. Well-being improves for men beyond 55 years whereas it worsens for women. Subject well-being is the lowest during 25-34 age period for women. Marriage diminishes the sense of subjective well-being irrespective of gender. Widows show the lowest subjective well-being while divorcees heave a sigh of relief. Women experience greater mental stress across all marital status.

The study has also found that women in male-headed households are the most orthodox in gender ideology. Men of female-headed households have the most progressive gender ideology, a high sense of well-being and better mental health. Older women are more orthodox than younger women. Divorcee men hold the most orthodox gender ideology. Education reduces disparity in gender ideology. Majority of men in Kerala favour a more dominant status for men and women readily accept the lower status as the norm.

According to the study, financial problems stand as the highest stress factor for Keralites irrespective of their gender, but males are more concerned about it than females. Women are twice as concerned about addiction in the family and 10 times more concerned about threat of aggression and violence. Twenty per cent of women and 14 per cent of men have experienced violence and aggression one time or the other.

Women ranked female-in-laws as the prime source of physical and mental violence while men ranked it only as the tenth source. Almost half of the married women in the sample studied by the research team (48.28 per cent) cited female-in-law as a cause.

Men ranked neighbours as the prime source of violence. For women, husband causes more stress than anybody else (54 per cent), but 19.5 per cent men cited wives as a source of stress. For women, loneliness is the top most cause of stress, other major factors being decision-making and handling of responsibilities.