Journal Article

Women’s autonomy and experience of physical violence within marriage in rural India

Evidence regarding the relationship between married women's autonomy and risk of marital violence remains mixed. Moreover, studies examining the contribution of specific aspects of women's autonomy in influencing the risk of marital violence using measures of autonomy that incorporate its dynamic nature are rare. We investigated the relationship between women's autonomy and their experience of marital violence in rural India using prospective data. We used data on 4,904 rural women drawn from two linked studies: the NFHS-2, conducted during 1998-1999 and a follow-up study for a subgroup of women carried out during 2002-2003. Three dimensions of autonomy were used: financial autonomy, freedom of movement, and household decision-making. Marital violence was measured as experience of physical violence in the year prior to the follow-up survey. Findings indicate the protective effects of financial autonomy and freedom of movement in reducing the risk of marital violence in the overall model. Furthermore, region-wise analysis revealed that in the more gender equitable settings of south India, financial autonomy exerted a protective influence on risk of marital violence. However, in the more gender-stratified settings of north India, none of the dimensions of autonomy were found to have any protective effect on women's risk of marital violence. Results argue for an increased focus on strategies aimed at improving women's financial status through livelihood skill-building opportunities, development of a strong savings orientation, and asset-building options.