Women who take part in empowerment programmes as teenagers face lower levels of domestic violence

Women who take part in empowerment programmes as teenagers face lower levels of domestic violence

Image of three young girls, photographed in Jammu, India

Women who take part in empowerment programmes as teenagers report facing lower levels of intimate partner violence (IPV), a study by the Department’s Dr Prashant Poddar reveals. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines intimate partner violence as “any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological, or sexual harm to those in the relationship.” Estimates suggest that nearly 30% of women around the world have experienced physical or sexual forms of IPV during their lifetime.

This paper, co-authored by Somdeep Chatterjee of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, studies a large-scale women’s empowerment intervention introduced in India in 2010 – the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (SABLA) – to understand its effects on domestic violence faced by women.

The SABLA programme seeks to promote the self-development and empowerment of girls aged 11–18 by providing them with support across multiple dimensions. This support comes in the form of iron and folic acid tablets, nutrition and health education, life skills training, sexual and reproductive health education, information on accessing public services, and vocational training. 

The SABLA programme uses a “life course approach” to promote timely investments in health and human capital for girls, in order to improve their outcomes in later life.

Using data from Round 4 of the National Family Health Survey for India conducted in 2015-16, the paper found that participants in the SABLA programme reported facing lower levels of emotional and physical violence and controlling behaviour from partners.  

These effects on intimate partner violence may be a direct impact of the programme itself, as SABLA has modules that discuss issues related to domestic violence and marital rape. The programme also imparts legal awareness that includes specific information on provisions of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005.

However, the study also suggests that other effects of the programme, including improved health, higher literacy, and better labour market opportunities for women, may also help to indirectly reduce IPV.

For instance, studies suggest that IPV is more likely to occur when a woman can be physically overpowered – the physical stature and overall health of a woman can therefore play an important role in determining the incidence of IPV she faces.

Participants in SABLA were found to have a higher height and weight than those who were not exposed to the programme. Improved physical stature due to the nutritional component of the programme could therefore be a potential mechanism through which domestic violence reduces for women exposed to the programme. 

Similarly, improved job opportunities (often dependent on a higher level of literacy), can result in lower IPV for women if it improves their bargaining power in the household or reduces their exposure to their husband.

Women enrolled in the SABLA programme had a higher literacy level and were more likely to be employed than those not in the programme. This suggests that improvement in employment opportunities for women, potentially accompanied with an increase in their bargaining power in the household, might have resulted in less reported IPV for exposed women.

The paper is one of the first to study a multi-dimensional empowerment programme targeted toward adolescent girls, and tries to investigate its impact on IPV faced by these girls after marriage.

The paper concludes:

Our study contributes to the broader strand of literature that identifies and analyses factors as well as interventions that have a potential effect on women’s empowerment and the IPV faced by them.

By analysing a multi-year and multi-pronged empowerment programme targeted toward adolescent girls, our study also points toward the potential long-term benefits of focusing on women’s skills and their overall development.

Original Publication

Chatterjee, S. and Poddar, P. (2024). Women’s Empowerment and Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from a Multidimensional Policy in India. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 72 (2)