UNFPA Press Release
A new study, ‘Masculinity, Intimate Partner Violence and Son Preference in India’, by the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) explores how the average Indian male interprets the idea of ‘masculinity’ and how that shapes his interactions with women and increases his desire for sons.
The study explores two areas that are particularly important in the Indian context: intimate partner violence and son preference. It is well-established that Indian women face social and familial pressures to produce sons, and the failure to do so increases the threat of violence and abandonment in marriage.
Indeed, not all men think, feel or respond in the same way, which is why the study uses a masculinity index to measure the degree of behavioural rigidity, based on the levels of control men practice in intimate relationship and their attitudes towards gender equality.
According to Frederika Meijer, UNFPA India Representative, “Gendered ideas of masculinity and childhood experiences are significant contributing factors behind men using violence. This research identifies alternative expressions of masculinity that offer pointers to effectively engage men and boys in achieving gender equality. It identifies triggers that could enable them to become change agents in addressing gender discrimination.”
Results from the 9,205 men interviewed show that the average India man is convinced that masculinity is about acting tough, freely exercising his privilege to lay down the rules in personal relationships, and, above all, controlling women.
Take a look:
- One-in-three men surveyed didn’t allow their wives to the wear clothes of their choice.
- Sixty-six per cent men believed that they had “a greater say than their wife/partner in the important decisions that affect us”.
- 75 per cent men expected their partners to agree to sex. Moreover, over 50 per cent men didn’t expect their partners to use contraceptives without their permission.
Clearly, “being a real man” is characterised by authority, while a woman has to prove her femininity with qualities of “tolerance and acceptance”. The study shows that often a departure from these mannerisms could provoke a violent reaction from men.
Sure enough, the study shows a very high prevalence of intimate partner violence in India. Around two-out-of-five men from the seven study states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya
Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Punjab and Haryana were found to be ‘rigidly masculine’ in their attitude and behaviour, as they firmly stated that women should neither be seen nor heard.
What’s more, 60 per cent admitted to using violence to assert their dominance over their partner if she wanted to step out of her traditional roles or was unable to meet the expectation of bearing a son. In fact, more than half – 52 per cent – of the 3,158 women surveyed talked about experiencing some form of violence during their lifetime, with 38 per cent suffering physical violence, including being kicked, beaten, slapped, choked and burned, and 35 per cent were subjected to emotional violence, including insults, intimidation and threats. While Odisha and Uttar Pradesh emerged as the states with the highest incidence of intimate partner violence at 75 per cent, Punjab and Haryana followed at 43 per cent and Maharashtra at 37 per cent.
“The study reaffirms and demonstrates that addressing inequitable gender norms and masculinity issues are at the heart of tackling root causes of intimate partner violence and son preference,” states Luis Mora, Chief, Gender-Human Rights and Culture, UNFPA.
If men with discriminatory gender views are more inclined to physically abusing their partner, then they are also the ones more likely to want sons, affirms the study. Boys are preferred in many Indian families as they stand to inherit property, carry forward the family lineage and participate in specific religious rituals. Census 2011 data reveals the child sex ratio in the country has dropped from 927 girls per 1,000 boys to an all-time low of 918. Examining the extent of son preference, the study measured daughter discrimination and finds that over a third of the men and women show both high daughter discriminatory and son preferring attitudes.
Undoubtedly, the traditional construct of masculinity increases the tendency for violence and son preference among men. In order to be able to enlist them to become a part of the solution and not the problem, a couple of factors need to be taken into account. Firstly, the study catalogues economic stress as a major trigger for both violence against women and the desire for sons. A crisis that threatens their position as the primary providers at times prompts them to use violence to gain control. Simultaneously, it reiterates their belief that more male children can guarantee better financial security.
The other aspect that plays an essential part in intensifying conventional masculine attitudes is childhood experiences. The more men witness their father exercising greater control at home in their formative years, the less likely they are to develop gender equitable attitudes. Says Ravi Verma, Regional Director, ICRW-Asia, “The findings of the study are extremely clear on lasting impact of the childhood experiences. It is high time we begin to seriously think how we wish to bring up our boys and also present ourselves as adults to younger ones within the families.”
The Masculinity study makes an urgent call for developing policies that build men’s confidence to behave differently. Two solutions that offer promise of real transformation are: breaking the cycle of discrimination by reaching out to young boys with alternative ideas of masculinity, that are not based on power or authority; and ensuring quality education for both sexes along with ensuring women’s access to income.