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Urban Poor and Intimate Partner Violence

In Intimate partner violence against married rural-to-urban migrant workers in eastern China: prevalence, patterns and associated factors by Li Chen et al. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is defined as, “domestic violence by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner.” (Chen et al. 2016. p. 1).  IPV has several forms with many meanings, however, to bring things into perspective, let’s assume that when talking about psychological IPV, it includes: being insulted, swore, shouted, yelled at, made feel bad about themselves, destroyed possessions, or threatened to hit or threatened to be sexually abused. Physical IPV includes: being pushed, shoved, slapped, punched, kicked, and beaten by their partner. Physical IPV also links with sexual IPV, which includes sexual coercion and forced to participate in non-consensual sexual activities.

IPV is extremely prevalent in Pakistan. Around 40% of married women in Pakistan have reported suffering from some form of violence. (Nasrullah et al. 2015. p. 1) However, the urban poor within the society, most of whom reside in the urban slums especially in highly populated megacities, face more problems that those within a higher income bracket and better educational background. These two factors are extremely common in urban slums, where the urban poor women are forced to give up their opportunities for early marriage. These factors contribute to increasing IPV. Although the ecological model theory of violence explains that the causes of IPV are diverse and no single explanation can be given to help understand the reasons behind IPV, in Ending Violence Against Women: A Challenge for Development and Humanitarian Work, Pickup, Williams, and Sweetman talk about further three main factors that contribute to IPV:

  • Impaired masculinity, witnessing violence as they group

  • External factors like poverty and “social instability linked to male unemployment and women’s increased labour force participation, as well as armed conflict, can contribute to gender-based violence.” (Pickup et al. 2001. in McIlwainp. p. 69)

  • Patriarchy and inequalities between men and women

Cathy McIlwaine in Urbanization and gender-based violence: exploring the paradoxes on the global South, suggests, “women are most likely to be vulnerable to… [urban]… violence, especially in urban slums.” (McIlwain. 2013. p. 67). This is because all of the factors that contribute to IPV are present in the urban slums in greater numbers than in urban-rich areas. This blog will link and elaborate some of the the factors that are mentioned above.

Consistent with the theory of Pickup et al. several studies suggest that as a lot of women in the urban slums who are employed in the informal sector, face IPV due to their employment status. This naturally varies from area to area. “In the case of the Philippines, it was found that when women earned more than 50 percent of the household income they reported more domestic violence than those who earned less.” (McIlwain. 2013. p. 72). However, links between intimate partner violence and income earned is also dependent on the type of employment. Studies show that “women working in irregular, low-paid and casual jobs of low quality are more likely to experience domestic violence, while those working in better-paid, higher-quality jobs tend to experience less as they have more resources and choices to resist it. In turn, violence against women is further exacerbated when male partners are unemployed or have irregular work.” (McIlwain. 2013. p. 72). So, it is not just the type of employment for women, but also whether the partner is employed or not, or whether he works in the informal or formal sector. Typically, as the urban poor reside in the urban slums, and have informal jobs, the risk of domestic violence increases significantly in comparison to the urban rich.

Other than employment, lack of education especially in cases of married women resulted in domestic violence. According to Chen et al. “low level of education is the most consistent factor associated with both the perpetration and experiencing overall IPV and physical violence across studies.” (Chen et al. 2016. p. 10). This is further made clear in the urban slums of Lahore, Pakistan, where Nasrullah et al. inform us that nearly all of the women, who were living in urban slums, experienced threatened physical violence by their partners. More than half of the women reported that they were threatened to be beaten if they did not “obey” their husbands. Nearly half of the women reported that if they did not deal “well” with their in-laws, they were threatened to be hit. It should be noted that most of these women were married at a very young age and did not have a strong or adequate educational background.

These findings were consistent with the paper, Urbanization and gender-based violence: exploring the paradoxes on the global South by Cathy McIlwaine, where urban poor women, belonging from the low socio-economic and educational background were more likely to experience IPV. This was especially the case for those women who were married as children (before 18 years of age).

There are great costs associated with IPV in urban slums. “As survivors of violence, women experience physical and psychological health problems and in some cases, death. Health outcomes can include injuries and disabilities caused by violence, as well as sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, AIDS-related deaths and illnesses, and chronic pain syndrome. However, the psychological trauma caused by victimization or by witnessing violence is just as severe, and can include post-traumatic stress disorder, rape trauma syndrome, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse.” (McIlwaine. 2013. p. 73) Intimate partner violence comes at a great socio-economic cost, whether it is for the prevention for such cases, or treatment for women who experience domestic violence, or the opportunity cost of labor, when they are unable to work efficiently or work at all because of not being well and data from several countries suggest that. In 2003, the Colombian government has to spend USD$ 73.7 million, which was around 0.6% of the national budget, to “prevent, detect and offer services to survivors of family violence.” In Nagpur, India, 13% of the women who had experienced intimate partner violence reported that they were not paid as they had to take an average of 7 days off from work due to domestic violence. (McIlwaine. 2013. p. 73)

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were anti-domestic violence reforms where several countries criminalized intimate partner violence (both physical and sexual), however still today in many cities of the global South, either the laws do not exist, or if they do, are not implemented. This is especially true for low-income areas of cities such as slums where the population is typically the urban poor of the city.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) can play a massive role in helping women who face violence. Several NGOs work towards supporting these women and advocating for their rights. Some of these organizations are: War Against RapeAasha- Alliance against Sexual HarassmentAll Pakistan Women Association- APWa and Bedari. NGOs can provide residence, financial and medical aid, as well as legal support and representation in the court.


Chen, L., Yu, Z., Luo, X., & Huang, Z. (2016). Intimate partner violence against married rural-to-urban migrant workers in eastern China: prevalence, patterns, and associated factors. BMC public health, 16(1), 1232.

McIlwaine, C. (2013). Urbanization and gender-based violence: exploring the paradoxes in the global South. Environment and Urbanization, 25(1), 65-79.

Nasrullah, M., Zakar, R., Zakar, M. Z., Abbas, S., & Safdar, R. (2015). Circumstances leading to intimate partner violence against women married as children: a qualitative study in Urban Slums of Lahore, Pakistan. BMC international health and human rights, 15(1), 23.

Pickup, F., Williams, S., & Sweetman, C. (2001). Ending violence against women: A challenge for development and humanitarian work. Oxfam.

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