10% of married women suffer from spousal violence in Kerala, finds latest National Family Health Survey

A spate of sensational domestic violence cases with tragic consequences has been reported from Kerala of late. The suicides of young wives like Vismaya Nair and Mofia Parvin and the horrifying murder of Uthra by her husband by letting lose a snake on her have shook the public conscience.

Instances of domestic violence in several Kerala households, despite high education standards and favourable sex ratio, are concerning. The direct involvement of husbands rather than the in-laws in the domestic violence is more worrisome.

According to the findings of the latest National Health Survey 2019-20 (NFHS-5), 10 percent of married women in Kerala have experienced physical or sexual violence and 1 percent have experienced both forms of violence.

Spousal violence continues to be a major concern for women, the most common perpetrator in several cases being the husband.

While 10 per cent of the married women have experienced some form of physical violence from their husband, 2 per cent have experienced sexual violence and 7 per cent have experienced emotional violence from their spouse.

While 7 per cent reported being slapped by the husband, 6 per cent reported being pushed, shaken or having something hurled at them.

Spousal violence has also shown a significant correlation to factors like education and intake of alcohol. About 19 per cent women reported that they have experienced spousal violence sometimes when the husband is drunk. In such cases often the husband committing such acts had less than 10 years of education, the survey found.

Moreover, 37 per cent of the married women experience physical or sexual violence when the husband gets drunk often. Nearly one-third of the married women who experienced spousal violence reported suffering from the injuries inflicted by the husband.

According to the statistics made available by Kerala Police, 11,124 cases were registered by the police as cognizable crimes against women this year till September. Among these, the most number of cases (3,252) were owing to husband's cruelty. This is considerably higher than the statistics for the years 2020 (2,707) and 2019 (2,970).

Seeking help

Women also hesitate to seek help in case of domestic violence. Only 24 percent of women who experienced physical violence sought help. Nearly 57 per cent have neither sought help or confided in anyone about the incident, the survey found.

While the fear to approach for help is understandable, what is more alarming is the perception among women and their husbands that domestic violence is an acceptable norm under certain circumstances.

Fifty-two percent of the women surveyed agreed that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under some circumstances. These circumstances include disrespect to in-laws (38%), neglect to house or children (27%) and suspicion of being unfaithful (27%).

Amongst men 63 per cent say wife beating is justified in circumstances like suspicion of wife being unfaithful (47%), disrespect for in-laws (40%), neglect of household and children (34%) and argument with husband (20%).

Income levels too matter

While the income levels of households surveyed have not been released by the NFHS-5 yet, it offers some insights into the employment and earnings aspect.

Only 26 per cent of the women (15-49 age category) surveyed were employed in the one year preceding the survey. Comparatively, almost 75 per cent among men surveyed were employed. Among the employed women almost 99 per cent earned cash. Lack of disposable income significantly affects the gender-based role dynamics and status in a household.

One point of relief is the fact that 91 per cent of the employed and married women have a say in the way their income is spent. Among the survey participants 53 per cent women said they can decide how to use their money and 79 per cent have a bank or savings account that they themselves use.

When asked whether they have a say in major decisions, most responded that they participate in decision regarding their health (83%), about visit to family or relatives (85%) and major household purchases. Sixty-nine per cent participated in all three decisions and six participated in none.

In case of ownership of assets, 25 per cent women own a house alone or jointly with someone else compared to 54 per cent men.

The Survey

The National Health Survey 2019-20, the fifth in the series, is conducted under the stewardship of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for gathering specific information on population, health and nutrition across the Indian states and Union Territories.

Four separate survey questionnaires — Household, Woman, Man and Biomarker — were used to collect information in 19 languages using Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI).

All women in the age category of 15-49 years and men in the age group of 15-54 were eligible for interviewing. The NFHS-5 sample is designed to provide reliable estimates of all key indicators at the national, state and district level.

The survey was conducted in the 14 districts of Kerala from 20 July 2019 to 2 December 2019. In all 12,330 households, 10,969 women aged 15-49 and 1,473 men aged 15-54 were interviewed.

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