Gender Roles in India


NEW DELHI, India — A 2014 study on gender roles in India conducted by the International Center for Research on Women, or ICRW, concluded that Indian men’s sense of “masculinity” significantly affects preferences for sons as well as inclinations for violence towards an intimate partner.

The study, which ranked surveyors on a “masculinity index” and then compared behaviors based on the index, had some startling findings with regards to domestic violence and gender inequity. For instance, the study found that one in three men surveyed do not allow their wives to wear the clothes of their choice, 66 percent of the men believed they had a “greater say than their wife/partner in the important decisions” that affected the family and 75 percent of men expected their partner to agree to sex.

Moreover, 52 percent of the women surveyed reported they had “experienced some form of violence during their lifetime,” while 60 percent of men claimed they had “acted violently against their partner at some point in their lives.”

Educated men and women who were 35 years of age or older were less likely to experience or perpetuate violence. Regardless of age, however, men who experience “economic stress” were more likely to have committed an act of violence in the past 12 months.

The study, which surveyed a total of 9,205 men and 3,158 women aged 18-49 in seven states across India, also found that violence and son preference was least likely among wealthier, more educated men who grew up in families with more joint decision-making between parents. Moreover, men with higher levels of education and economic stability were less likely to “exercise control over their partners” and more likely to “respect their partners as equals.”

Of those who expressed a preference for offspring gender, sons were almost four times as popular as daughters. Both men and women who wanted more sons were generally poorer, older, less literate and more likely to live in a rural setting. Economic status played a particularly important role in gender preference, with men in a higher economic bracket being only half as likely to have a high preference compared with poorer men.

In the past few decades, this gender preference has resulted in a notable surplus of male births compared with female births. Evidence indicates that this lack of women has led to “increased violence against women, trafficking, abduction, forced marriages or brides being shared among brothers.”

The trends revealed in this study, both in terms of gender preference and violence towards intimate partners, are indicative of long-established norms deeply ingrained in Indian society.

According to the ICRW, Indian linguistic ethnicity, caste and class have a profound effect on how Indian men develop their sense of masculinity. In a society already prone to rankings and hierarchies, many Indian men perceive masculinity in terms of “acting tough, freely exercising his privilege to lay down the rules in personal relationships, and, above all, controlling women.”

By ranking surveyors on a “masculinity index”, this survey largely confirms the assumption that embracing this form of “masculinity” tends to translate into higher rates of intimate partner violence and son preference.

While there have been several notable efforts in recent years to combat both intimate partner violence and gender birth preference, the study’s authors recommend more action ought to be taken. Specifically, the ICRW recommends educating young children about gender equality, launching state and national educational campaigns that focus on redefining men’s and women’s roles, and above all, developing policies that integrate both men and women into gender equality campaigns.

Katrina Beedy

Sources: ICRW 1 ICRW 2
Photo: Fembot Mag


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