Violence and Discrimination against Women

Special Section
Editorial Overview:
Violence and
against Women
Guest Editor: Bibhas Saha
The role of women in the labour market is intricately related to the
society’s expectation about their roles at home. When the expectations
of motherhood and the homemaker role are greater, the likelihood of
women’s labour market success will be smaller. This in turn discourages
society to invest in women’s safety and security outside their home
environment. Inside their homes, society and state give priority to the
spousal role of the women, ahead of their physical safety and mental
well-being. Thus, conditions become rife for meting out violence and
abuse towards them. A number of articles in this special section present
research findings on this difficult problem.
Setting the Stage for Discussion
Women’s participation in the labour market often comes with a trade-off
in their role at homemaking. This is very different to the trade-off men
face in their labour market decisions. Success in the labour market may
not necessarily improve a woman’s social status, if the society views her
role primarily as one of a homemaker. But such views clearly deny the
society of economic prosperity that women would unleash if they could
participate in the labour market in a robust way. It has been abundantly
evidenced that women who take time out to raise family find it difficult
to re-enter the labour market, with their lifetime earnings being reduced
by a variety of factors including motherhood. Considerations such as
motherhood, child care and family obligations have tremendous impact
on a woman’s decision to participate in the labour market, which in turn
Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics
27(2) 152–159
© 2015 Sage Publications India
Private Limited
SAG E Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0260107915586093
Saha 153
affects her income and her children’s welfare. Low labour market participation
rate of women is a universal problem and different countries
have sought to improve the rate in a variety of mechanisms. In the United
States, introduction of social security, tax credit for children and various
legislations to protect women at workplace have played important roles
in lifting the women’s labour market participation rate from 18.6 per cent
in 1890 to 50.5 per cent in 1980 (see Killingsworth & Heckman, 1986).1
For women aged 25–54, the participation rate in the US is about 75.2 per
cent as of 2010 (Blau & Kahn, 2013). In the UK, the average participation
rate for women increased from 32.3 per cent in 1921 to 45.6 per cent
in 1981 (Killingsworth & Heckman, 1986). For India, the picture is not
all that clear. The women’s labour market participation rate (for women
aged 15–59) was 28.3 per cent in 1993, but in 2009 fell to 23.3 per cent
(Majumdar, 2012). This is certainly a worrying statistic. Not only is the
participation rate significantly lower than the East Asian countries
(where it is around 50 per cent), but the rate seems to be falling over time
(at worst, not rising significantly). There are also concerns, as the participation
rate seems to be negatively correlated with education, again a
disturbing trend.
Women’s decision to participate in the labour market depends not
just on the wage they expect to get, but on a number of social factors,
such as how safe the workplace is, to what extent she will have
control over her fertility choice and particularly for Indian women,
how welcoming her marital family will be to her spending time
away from home. Additionally, there are caste-related taboos and prejudices
(gender biases) that are carried over to the labour market
that make employment relations fraught with social frictions. All these
factors intricately affect a woman’s decision to work and seek economic
While there is a vast literature dealing with wage discrimination
and female labour supply, this Special Section of the Journal of Interdisciplinary
Economics on the Violence and Discrimination Against
Women is devoted to the problem of violence against women. It is known
that women face the risk of abuse at home by their spouses, molestation
and even sexual violence by strangers outside their homes and harassment
by colleagues at workplace. Men do not face such risks for being
men, but women do. Some estimates suggest the world economy is at
least 17 per cent poorer by inflicting violence on women (Fearon &
Hoeffler, 2014).
Recall the horrific incident of gang rape and murder of the Delhi paramedical
student Jyoti Singh. On 16 December 2012, she was attacked by
154 Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics 27(2)
a gang of six men in an off-duty school bus. She was not only raped
relentlessly, but the youngest of the perpetrators, who was juvenile at the
time, took special interest in wounding her vital organs mercilessly.
Later, the perpetrators were arrested and sentenced to death, barring the
juvenile. A recent documentary on the event revealed the mindset of the
perpetrators, one of whom said that the woman had to die, ‘because of
her own faults, first she stayed outdoor late in the evening and second
she resisted rape’.
Although this incident surpassed all known cases of brutality in India,
there are many exceptional events of violence against women recorded
around the world. Levitt and Dubner (2009) discuss the famous case of
Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old New Yorker, who was sexually assaulted
and murdered by a stranger at night in front of 38 witnesses. The New
York Times had reported, ‘Not one person telephoned the police during
the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead’ (Levitt &
Dubner, 2009, p. 98). Not only did 37 people fail to call police, but their
eyewitness accounts also differed. The killer was caught few days later
and when asked about his motive for killing his reply was ‘I just wanted
to kill someone.’
Starting from sex-selective abortion, molestation, acid throwing, rape
and sexual harassment at work to intimate partner violence at home, the
list of violence a girl or a woman potentially vulnerable to is indeed very
long. These unfortunate events damage women’s health and mental wellbeing
(Krantz & Garcia-Moreno, 2005). Each risk factor is an obstacle
that a girl must avoid/overcome to grow up to be a working woman.
To what extent this risk of violence affects her eventual labour market
participation and how such risks can be mitigated are of great importance.
However, the economic literature has by and large not satisfactorily
addressed these questions.
Understanding these obstacles requires an arsenal of research tools
and need to be dealt within an interdisciplinary framework. On the one
hand, we need to study from the literature of the economics of crime
(Becker, 1968) to analyze how a violent offender manipulates the evidence
and the victim’s incentive to report, as well as how the legal systems
fail to render justice. On the other hand, we also need to study
economics of intra-household distribution that is often the most
critical factor linking a woman’s fertility choice with her financial independence.
Above all, we need to understand how the labour market
processes various pieces of information regarding a female worker’s
productivity—present and future—and thereby determines her wage that
is often found to be lower than that of her male counterpart, controlling
Saha 155
for similar characteristics (Becker, 1965, 1985). These interrelated questions
render research on violence against women and its economic
ramifications a complex and challenging academic exercise. The special
section on the Violence and Discrimination against Women will be
spread over two consecutive issues of JIE, this being the first one, and
will put together several research articles on this topical subject.
The questions at the core of the research presented in the sections are:
Where does violence of women start, where does it end? How does
it disadvantage women? And above all, what factors help mitigate the
Introducing the Articles in This Special Section
We know that some aspects of violence are intergenerational; for some
women, the risk of being abused as a girl child or as wife begins well
before they are born. This is known as the problem of intergenerational
transmission of abuse and it has received attention from sociologists,
psychologists, social workers and more recently also from economists.
It is often seen that there is a strong correlation between childhood experiences
of abuse and their own adult life experience of abuse. To put
it loosely, a girl child whose mother has been abused by her husband
(or similarly positioned males in the family) will have a greater risk of
being abused by her own husband/partner. The correlation has been
found by many studies. But the direction of causality is not clear. Is it
the girl’s experience of seeing her mother abused that induces certain
behaviours, such as choosing a spouse/ husband, which invites greater
risk of abuse? Or is it the case that her mother or parents together decide
on her future (probably with good intentions) that ultimately disadvantages
her and increases the risk of abuse?
The article by Abramovaite et al. The Dynamics of Intergenerational
Family Abuse: A Focus on Child Maltreatment and Violence and Abuse
in Intimate Relationships looks at the literature on intergenerational
abuse and focuses on the issue of maltreatment of children. Parents
who had been abused in their childhood are more likely to inflict
abuse on their own children. Families of parents with the neglected
childhood are at some extra risk of child abuse. As the article explains,
the idea of a cycle of abuse or violence requires three conditions to be
met: a boy witnessing violence will grow up to be a violent husband; a
girl witnessing violence as a child will not abandon her violent husband
156 Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics 27(2)
and a boy/girl growing up in a violent home would end up choosing a
girl/boy who grew up in a violent home. However, a satisfactory economic
model that shows a cycle of violence as an equilibrium phenomenon
is yet to be seen. To the extent individual behaviours (of violence)
conform to the social norm of violence (such as wife beating, dowry
death, etc.), economic theory can go a long way. Evolutionary game
theories have already shown how social norms evolve and this line of
argument is very useful for understanding violence against women as a
‘bad’ social norm. However, there are some complex issues that are yet
to be understood. Does childhood experience of violence per se makes
one violent or is it the economic stress that comes with disturbed upbringing
that pushes one to violence or is it simply bad parenting? If the factors
are environmental, then they are much harder to solve, but if it is bad
parenting, then training can help to easily overcome them. The authors
argue that understanding the causes is the key in designing the right
The article by Ghosh The Political Economy of Domestic Violence in
a Mumbai Slum—An Ethnographic Analysis provides a grass-roots perspective
on the intergenerational abuse problem. She presents a field
study-based analysis of the trap of marital abuse or intimate partner
violence. Based on the interviews of 54 women in a Mumbai slum, she
documents that mothers who experienced abuse in their own lives married
their daughters off at an early age to maximize the prospect of a
good (and happy) match. Because earning males prefer young brides,
successful matches would hopefully lead to an abuse-free life. But getting
married early also means unfinished schooling and a significant disadvantage
to future economic independence. Unfortunately, as the study
shows, the very strategy (getting daughters married off early) that is
meant to help their daughters escape the abuse trap leads to reinforcement
of the trap, when the husband’s incomes become irregular or when
hard times fall on the family. The girl’s low education magnifies her risk
of being abused. Although this study does not go into quantitative risk
analysis, the findings are very compelling. The woman after her marriage
hardly finds any safety net. Her natal family may not provide any
support, and neighbours can look away. Fortunately, as the study shows,
children in some instances do provide a ray of hope, as they often stand
up against their abusive father. This is their conscious effort to break the
cycle of violence.
One may expect broadly, except in very stressful environments such
as the ones described by Ghosh, that economic independence of women
(or legal entitlement of wealth of the husband or parents) is the key to
Saha 157
mitigate the risk of abuse. This will also help achieving gender balance,
at least within the household. If that is true, then with recent growth
spurts in India, women would see greater job opportunities, and thereby
improved economic status within their households. Does it also help
acquiring a safer and better status outside? What about the policies that
empower women economically? The article by Amaral et al. Employment
Programmes for the Poor and Female Empowerment: The Effect
of NREGS on Gender-based Violence in India addresses this question
by studying India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme
(NREG) that offers 100 days of rural work to any man or woman in need
of work. The programme was launched in 2005, and since then it is
growing in its popularity. One interesting finding of this study is that
with greater income opportunities accessible to low-income women,
there is some evidence of improvement in their status within the household;
dowry death rate has fallen. But on the contrary, domestic violence
has gone up along with kidnapping of women and sexual harassment.
It seems that as women are spending more time outside, the risk of
external violence has increased, along with frictions with the husband
(possibly due to time spent away from home). The external risk has
increased, because there has not been matching investment in safety
and security of women in public places.
The article by Gangopadhyay Sexual Violence: A Model of Occupational
Choice and Gender Wage Gap takes a dispassionate look at the
international data on rape and other types of violence against women
(United Nations database) and compares them with the Indian data
(obtained from the National Crime Record Bureau). Contrary to the
popular perception, India is not the worst country in terms of the
reported incidents of rape. For India, the number of rapes per 100,000
populations is 2.03 in 2012, while the same for Sweden is 66.5 (in 2012).
Of course, there is always a serious under-reporting problem. But even
with the allowance of a reliable degree of under-reporting (obtained
from the literature), the author persuasively argues that still India would
fall in the lower tail of the global distribution of the incidence of
rape. However, the author notes an intriguing fact: the incidence of rape
shows positive correlation with per capita GDP, but negative correlation
with female labour market participation rate. The second relation is
expected, but the first one is puzzling. The author builds a simple model
to explain this puzzle. The model assumes two sectors—traditional and
non-traditional. The traditional sector is less productive than the nontraditional
sector, and hence the traditional sector can offer only a lower
wage. But the non-traditional sector also involves greater risk of sexual
158 Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics 27(2)
abuse or rape. The higher wage of non-traditional sector is coupled with
higher risk of rape/sexual harassment, which makes it equivalent to the
traditional sector, in the eyes of the female workers. This is the argument
offered by the author using a standard model of labour supply.
One important question that the articles in this issue do not satisfactorily
deal with is the issue of public policy. The articles by Abramovaite et al.
and Ghosh make it clear that the question of intervention to break the
cycle of intergenerational abuse is quite complex. Perhaps we need a
combination of policies rather than a single policy. The article by Amaral
et al. highlights the importance of public goods provision, particularly
public goods/services that need to be tailored to women’s specific needs.
Gangopadhyay, on the contrary, shows the universality of the problem of
rape, and how it can affect the wage gap between sectors for women.
These insights are to be kept in mind while designing policies or evaluating
a given policy.
An important contribution of this collection of articles is that it demonstrates
the challenges involved in analyzing the economics of the violence
against women, both in terms of the factors that underlie it and its impact
on economic outcomes. As is evident from the articles in this section, the
research on the problem of violence against women requires an interdisciplinary
approach. Relying exclusively on economic or sociological or
psychological approaches will give only a very partial view. While the
quantitative and mathematical models of economics are very useful in
estimating risks of violence and identifying the points of intervention,
sociological studies are particularly important in understanding how
social norms and obstacles come on the way that economic approaches
fail to take into account. Psychological insights are also crucial for understanding
some dynamics of household decisions, particularly understanding
how emotions and optimism might play important roles in deciding
whether to report spousal violence to police. Collaborative research is an
important way forward. These four articles and the ones in the next issue
hopefully will generate significant research on this problem.
1. This includes women of all ages from the age of 10 to over 65. Of course for
the age group 10–13, the supply has become zero after 1930, and the highest
participation rate corresponds to the age group 20–44.
Saha 159
Becker, G.S. (1965). A theory of the allocation of time. Economic Journal,
75(299), 493–517.
———. (1968). Crime and punishment: An economic approach. The Journal of
Political Economy, 76, 169–217.
Becker, G.S. (1985). Human capital, effort and the sexual division of labour.
Journal of Labor Economics, 3(Supplementary issue), S33–S385.
Blau, F.D., & Kahn, L.M. (2013). Female labor supply: Why is the United
States falling behind. American Economic Review, 103(3), 251–256.
Dubner, S.J., & Levitt, S.D. (2009). SuperFreakonomics. New York: William
Fearon, J. & Hoeffler, A. (2014). Benefits and costs of the conflict and violence
targets for the post-2015 development agenda, Copenhagen Consensus
Center. Retrieved from (accessed
on 27 March 2015).
Killingsworth, M.R., & Heckman, J.J. (1986). Female labor supply: A surveyr
2. In O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (Eds), Handbook of labor economics
(pp. 103–204). Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Krantz, G., & Garcia-Moreno, C. (2005). Violence against women. Journal of
Epidemiology and Community Health, 59(10), 818–821.
Majumdar, R. (2012). Female labour supply: Proximate determinants (MPRA
paper no. 43250). Munich Personal RePec Archive. Retrieved from http:// (accessed on 7 April 2015).
Bibhas Saha is Reader in Economics at the Durham University Business
School. He did his MA in Economics from the University of Calcutta
and PhD in Economics from the University of Southern California.
Prior to joining the University of Durham, he has worked at the Indira
Gandhi Institute of Development Research, University of Southern
California and University of East Anglia. His research interest includes
economics of corruption, betting, privatization and labour market. He
has published in Games and Economic Behavior, Journal of Development
Economics, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization,
Economica, Journal of Comparative Economics, Review of Development
Economics, Economics Letters, and Journal of Interdisciplinary
Economics among others.

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