Unequal Gender Roles To Domestic Violence Sociology Essay


The UN’s Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted in 1994, condemns any “act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (Barnett, Miller & Perrin, 2005).

This definition refers to gender-based violence, recognizing that violence is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced to accept a subordinate position compared to men.

Universal attitudes of male dominance and patriarchal attitudes can literally engender a culture of violence in which women and children are the victims. Violence against wives is an outcome of the belief fostered in all cultures, that men are superior and that the women with whom they live are their possessions to be treated as they consider appropriate (Connors 1992).

Men’s abuse of women is condoned and even applauded by society as natural, understandable, tolerable, deserved the natural order of things, inevitable, women’s lot, part of the price of marital bargain (Radford & Russell, 1992). Society’s tolerance for aggression may have a “spillover effect”, raising the likelihood of violence in the home (Tolan & Guerra, 1998). Gender-based violence has also been identified to have important implications for socioeconomic development. It is widely accepted that problems such as high fertility and hunger cannot be solved without women’s full participation (Heise et al., 1994).


Violence in the domestic domain is usually perpetrated by males who are, or who have been in positions of trust and intimacy and power. Domestic Violence unfortunately is on the ascendancy in most families across cultures, negating the myth of the family as a warm and bring place in which member care and nurture one another (Cadwallader, 1993; Eitzen & Zinn, 1992).

Domestic Violence was first established as a development concern at the UN Declaration for Women’s meeting in Nairobi in 1985. Since then, worldwide organizations and locally based agencies, and individual activities across the world have campaigned vigorously against abuse such as rape, wife beating, sexual slavery and harassment among others.

Nevertheless countries as far apart as the United States of America, Zimbabwe, Brazil, France and the Philippines have seen the issue of the domestic abuse raised onto the political agenda. In some of these countries, new laws have been implemented to extend and safeguard women’s rights.

In spite of these efforts, domestic violence is still the most common and widespread form of violence throughout the world. Studies have shown that women and children constitute the majority of the victims. They often get hurt, thus making domestic violence tantamount to violence against women (Daly & Wilson, 1988).

Levesque (2001) cites estimates made by the UN that between 17% and 38% of the world’s women are victims of intimate violence, with rates as high as 60% in developing countries. McWhirter (1999) reports that in Chile, “private violence” probably affects 25% of wives and 60% of families.

In some cultures, Counts (1992) reported that wife beating is regarded as good conduct, solid gender conformity and culturally expected. The men beat their wives as a ‘physical reprimand’. In Serbian villages, the peasants and their wives alike consider wife beating as the husband’s right as head of the family (Richters, 1994).

In East and North Africa and in the Middle East, men may censure women for trite or serious behaviour from simply listening to love songs on the radio to suspected or detected sexual activity.

Indeed, domestic violence is a significant cause of disability and death among women of reproductive age in both the industrial and developing world. World Bank estimates that these account for 5 per cent of the healthy years of life lost to women in demographically developing countries (Heise et al., 1994).

Lauer (1989) identifies that wife battering negatively affects the family fabric as family members fail to promote economic, social and emotional support to and for one another. However, because of its private and hidden nature, domestic violence is very much under-reported and under-documented; hence its prevalence is also underestimated around the world.

In the USA alone, over 2 million women get battered each year (Benokraitis, 1996). Violence is said to occur at least once in two-thirds of all marriages, while one out of every eight couples admitted that there had been an act of violence between 40 and 60 % of all police night calls were domestic disputes (Carmillo, 1991).

Some 9500 and 5 million assault cases are reported annually in Sweden (Hyden, 1994) and Germany (Ampofo, 1992) respectively. In France, 95% of victims of violence are women, while 25% of women cite battery as the reason for divorce in Denmark (Carrillo, 1991).

In Ghana, wife battering is a man’s way of teaching the wife a lesson, and even women have shown less sympathy for victims of wife beating who, according to customs, should learn to be cautious and calm (Ofei – Abopagye, 1994).


In Mauritius, a first study was carried out in 1998, at the level of the MGECDFW, formally MWRCDFWCP to assess the prevailing situation and investigate the causes of violence in the family.

Prior to 1997, violence against women was treated as any other case of assault. Wounds and blows accounted for 95% of violence against women. Legal actions were possible under Section 230 of the Criminal Code and the abuser, if found guilty was liable to a fine of Rs 1000 and imprisonment not exceeding 12 months.

As a testimony to its commitment, the Government of Mauritius has enacted the Protection from Domestic violence Act (PDVA), 1997. The Act provides for the issue of Protection Order, Occupation Order and Tenancy Order. The PDVA has, thereafter been amended in 2004 following the recommendations of the Task Force on Laws that are Discriminatory towards Women. Subsequently, the Ministry has set up appropriate structures for service provision to relieve the sufferings and further assist the victims of domestic violence.

It is important to note that Mauritius has ratified important conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Despite this, discrimination and violence against women persist.

According to data collected by the MGECDFW (2010), there has been an increase in the total cases registered at the Family Support Bureaux by 23.2% in 2009. The main causes identified are verbal assault followed by physical assault, alcoholism, extra marital affairs and interference with in-laws.


The Act defines domestic violence as any act committed by a person against his spouse or the child of such spouse including:

Physical injury

Placing the spouse in fear

Intimidation, harassment, maltreatment

Brutality or cruelty

Compelling the spouse by force or threat to engage in any conduct or act, sexual or otherwise from which the spouse has the right to abstain

Confining or detaining the spouse against her will

Any harm or threat to the child of the spouse

Causing or attempting to cause damage to the spouse’s property or a threat to commit any of these acts.

The act provided for the issue of:

Protection Orders – which restraints the abuser from further violence and orders him to be of good conduct; the order can last for a period not exceeding 24 months;

Occupancy Orders – which grants exclusive rights to the victim to live in the residence, which, may belong to the victim or the abuser or both. This order may last for a maximum period of 24 months;

Tenancy Orders – which give the victim the exclusive right to occupy a rented house and if the abuser rents the house, he would pay the rent.

The FWPU of the MGECDFW is responsible for the implementation of the government mechanisms of the PDVA. The total number of cases registered at the FSBx has increased by 23.2% from 16, 743 in 2008 to 20, 635 in 2009 (Statistics in Mauritius, MGECDFW, 2010).

The Family Welfare Unit was put in place in July 2003 in order to ensure that women enjoy equal opportunities and equal rights within society. The Family Welfare Unit, as an enforcement mechanism of the PDVA, operates from the Ministry and has a network of 6 Regional Offices known as Family Support Bureaux (FSBx). A hot line is also operational on a 24 hour basis to cater family related problems and officers can be contacted.

For the purpose of this dissertation, officers at the FSB of Flacq were contacted for information. As such the FSB consists of one Family Counselling Officer who is also responsible of the day to day running of the office and provides family counselling service, one Family Welfare Protection Officer who provides assistance to adult victims of domestic violence, one field assistant who works with the Family Welfare Protection Officer, one Psychologist who provides psychological counselling, one Legal Resource Person who provides legal counselling and is at the office only once a week and Office Clerks. The hotline number (24 hours service) for domestic violence is 139.


In addition to the role of the MGECDFW and through the FWPU, the police is also active in addressing domestic violence. Over the years, the role of PFPU has expended and now staffs deal with many cases of abuse and violence. In order to provide a better service and to be closer to the victims, the PFPU is decentralized on a regional basis.

2.6 SODA’s HAVEN (SOS Femmes)

The SOS Femmes now known as SODA HAVEN is a women’s non-profit governmental organization, was set up in 1989 to campaign violence against women and children. The shelter provides for safe and secure accommodation for children and women of abuse and violence. The role of the shelter is to offer temporary accommodation and emotional support to victims.

Records from SODA HAVEN state that 3000 victims sought advice in 2007. The survey reveals a close figure of 3000 for emotional and physical violence, and 500 for sexual violence (A Study the on the Extent, Nature and Costs of Domestic Violence to the Mauritian Economy, MGECDFW, 2000).


Table 1: Number of reported cases registered at the Family Support Bureau (FSB) by nature of problem and sex, for the years 2007 and 2009







Total no of cases registered





of which are:






Drug addiction





Extramarital affairs










Interference of in laws





Damage to property





Physical assault










Sexual (rape, sodomy, sexual harassment)





Verbal assault (ill treatment, abuse, humiliation)





From table 1 above, it can be observed that women as compared to men are mostly victims of domestic violence regardless of the nature of problem reported. Moreover, it can be noted that verbal assault is a major problem reported by women and physical assault has increased considerably.

Table 2: Number of Orders issued by type and year, 2007 &2009

Type of Order issued



Protection Order



Occupation Order



From table 2 above, it can be seen that the number of Protection Order issued has increased from 243 in 2007 to 260 in 2009. As it can be observed from table 1 above the FSB has registered 745 cases of physical assault in 2009 as compared to 2007 which showed a figure of only 452 cases.


Prevalence of domestic violence for the year 2009

Table 3: prevalence rate

Types of domestic violence

Male (%)

Female (%)










(Source: A Study of the Extent, Nature and costs of domestic violence to the Mauritian Economy, Ministry of GECDFW in collaboration with MRC, Oct 2009)

According to the survey conducted by the MGECDFW in collaboration with the MRC (2010), women are mostly affected by domestic violence. It can be observed that there is a high prevalence rate of emotional abuse among women (11.1%) as compared to men (1.05%). In contrast with physical and sexual violence, men and women are almost at par.




According to Leonore Walker (1979), a cycle of abuse consists of three basic phases:

Tension-Building Phase

During the first and usually the longest phase of the overall cycle, tension rises between the couple. It is characterized by poor communication, stress, fear of causing outbursts. Excessive drinking, illness, jealousy, and other such factors may lead to name-calling, hostility, and friction. During this stage the victim tries to calm the abuser down, to avoid any major violent confrontations.

Crisis Phase

The second phase of the cycle is the outburst of violence. This phase is characterized by outbreaks of violent, abusive incidents where the abuser attempts to dominate his partner, with the use of violence.

Honeymoon Phase

In this phase, the perpetrator is remorseful and fears losing his partner. He may promise her anything, beg forgiveness, get her gifts, and basically seem to be “the men she fell in love with.”


There are different theories as to causes of domestic violence. These include psychological theories, socio-psychological theories and sociocultural theories. These theories explain what causes an individual to act violently towards an intimate partner.

Psychological Theories

Under psychological theories of domestic violence, the focus is on personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender. Personality traits consist of sudden bursts of anger, poor impulse control, and poor self-esteem. Various theories suggest that psychopathology and other personality disorders are factors, and that violence experienced as a child leads some people to be more violent as adults.

Socio-psychological Theories

Socio-psychological theories examine the interaction of the individual with the social environment, that is, with other individuals, groups and organizations.

The frustration aggression theory views the expression of aggression either as a response to the emotion that an individual feels when some goal is blocked or as a response to frustration being the product of learning (Steinmetze 1988; Abraham 1995). Violence is seen to be highly related to social stress such as poverty and job loss. As a marriage declines in satisfaction, a growing sense of anger and frustration emerges that increases the potential for violence (F. Oyekanmi, 2000).

Social learning theory suggests that an individual learns from observing and modeling after others’ behaviour. If one observes violent behaviour, one is more likely to imitate it. If there are no negative consequences, then the behaviour will likely to persist.

Exchange theory states that marital interaction is governed by an attempt to maximize rewards and to minimize cost. People batter and abuse each other because it achieves a certain goal and the benefit outweighs the cost (Domestic Violence Group Action Project).

A related theory is resource theory, which explains that violence is used as a resource to gain one’s wishes in a manner similar to the use of money, status and individual personal attributes (Steinmetze, 1988). This theory was suggested by William Goode (1971). According to Goode (1971), violence is the ultimate resource in that it is used where other resources are perceived to be insufficient to obtain the desired response.

Another theory of violence is the conflict theory which assumes that conflict is an inevitable part of all associations which are characterized by super-ordinate and subordinate relations as well as competing goals. The family is viewed as an arena of confrontation and conflicting interests, and so violence is a likely income (Glenn, 1987).

Sociocultural Theories

Sociocultural theories focus on macro-level analysis and place marital violence within a wider explanatory framework that considers the impact of social institutions and social behaviour.

Structural theory

Under this theory, family problems arise from maladaptive boundaries and subsystems that are created within the family system of rules and rituals that governs their interactions (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).

Marxist Theory

Marxist theory explains the source of violence from an economic and political perspective. Women are an oppressed economic class deprived of economic control, political power and status. They are victimized by the patriarchal capitalist system which fosters control of the oppressed class by their oppressors. Violence, then, is employed as the male’s mechanism of controlling females (Mies, 1986).

Feminist or societal-structural theory

According to this theory, male intimates who use violence do so to control and limit the independence of their partners. Societal traditions of male supremacy support and sustain inequities in relationships (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).

Domestic violence emanates from a “patriarchal” school system which assigns men the right for controlling and managing female partners (Danis, 2003). Under this theory, domestic abuse is attributed to a flaw in societal structure rather than to any specific individual male pathology (UKEssays.Com).


Physical abuse

The most familiar form of abuse men inflict on their female partners is physical violence (A. Mullender, 1996). The impact of physical abuse may be more ‘visible’ than psychological scarring.

Physical abuse includes:















use of objects to perpetrate violence

use of weapons (brass knuckles, knives, guns)

(Domestic Violence Resource Center)

Examples of Physical Abuse:

Slapping, pinching, pushing, or kicking

Unnecessarily confining someone to a bed, chair, or room

forceful handling

Unwanted sexual advances

Signs of Physical Abuse:

Unexplained wounds such as bruises, burns, cuts, or swelling

Injury for which the explanation does not fit the evidence

Delay in seeking treatment

Grip marks

(Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)

Sexual abuse

Attempting to force sexual contact without consent, which includes marital rape, molestation, date rape or any demeaning sexual act. Sexual and physical violence frequently become combined in dominating behaviour which includes marital rape (Russell in A. Mullender, 1996).

Sexual abuse involves a wide range of pressurized and coercive sexual activities (Kelly, 1988 and 1988).

Sexual abuse includes:

forcing sexual contact

forcing intercourse

using blackmail in sexual relations

using sex as a reward or punishment

rape, including marital rape

(Domestic Violence Resource Center)

Examples of sexual Abuse:

For females – butt slapping, breast touching, flirting that the person is not comfortable with, being told disgusting things, or rape (Answers.Com).

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse takes the form of a systematic degrading of the victim’s sense of worth. This may be accomplished by calling the victim names, making disparaging or demeaning comments, forcing the victim to perform degrading acts, threatening to kill the victim or the victim’s family and controlling access to money.

Emotional abuse overlaps with sexual abuse through, for example, taunts about sexual undesirability, openly taking other partners, voicing negative comparisons, and other forms of sexual humiliation and degradation (A. Mullender, 1996).

Emotional / psychological abuse includes:

ignoring the victim’s feelings

withholding approval as a form of punishment

putting down the victim’s abilities as a parent, lover, worker

telling the victim about own sexual affairs


demanding all the victim’s attention

creating and maintaining economic dependency

withholding money

isolating from social contacts

humiliation in front of family members, others

blaming the victim for own misfortunes and mistakes


hostile jokes about the victim’s gender

insults and threats of physical violence and retaliation, of abuse of children or of getting custody of children.

(Domestic Violence Resource Center)

Economic abuse

Withholding money and other economic resources like employment from the victim making them economically handicapped and dependent on the perpetrator. Even working women are prone to such harassment.


This form of abuse involves unwanted attention by the perpetrator. Here the abuser ensures that the victim knows that she is being followed and watched continuously.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse is a form of abusive behavior through the use of language. Abusers may ignore, ridicule, disrespect, and criticize others consistently; manipulate words; purposefully humiliate; falsely accuse; manipulate people to submit to disagreeable behavior; make others feel unwanted and unloved; threaten economically; put the blame and cause of the abuse on others, and isolate victims from support systems..

Verbal abuse takes on many forms including criticizing, insulting, degrading, harsh scolding, calling names, nagging, threatening, ridiculing, belittling, trivializing, screaming, ranting, racial slurring and using crude or foul language (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).

Through all the forms of abuse, it is the physical violence or the anticipation of it that keeps the other forms of abuse in place. Consequently, the Domestic Abuse International Project in Duluth, Minnesota has portrayed abuse as a wheel with the spokes kept in place by physical abuse and the central aim as power and control by the men over the women (A. Mullender, 1996).

The power and wheel model is an informational tool intended to help individuals understand the dynamics of power operating in abusive situations and identify various methods of abuse.


Victims of abuse continue to stay in abusive relationships for various reasons.

Obligation to stay with abusive partner

Even when faced with the abusive nature of their partners, some women feel that it is their obligation as a wife to stay in that environment. Many women are conditioned to believe they are responsible for making their marriage and relationship work. Some women may be forced by other family members to keep the relationship together, or have religious beliefs that do not approve of divorce. A woman who has strong religious convictions can feel an enormous guilt if she leaves her partner. Therefore, this social stigma and its subsequent feeling of insecurity compel abused women to stay in abusive relationships.

Shame or Denial

Some victims of abuse feel ashamed about the abuse and do not want anybody to know about it. Victims may also have low self-esteem as a consequence of the abuse, in which she blames herself for what has happened.

Fear of Retaliation from Abuser

Victims may also be fearful of what would happen to them if they leave their marriage. Threats act as an effective technique to keep someone in a relationship, which is the goal of the abuser. A woman may have repeatedly been told that if she leaves the relationship, terrible things will happen to her or her children.

Financial Dependency

Victims who are financially dependent on their partners will continue to stay in abusive relationships. She may fear living on her own and the prospect of trying to support her and the children. The fear of poverty or a greatly lowered standard of living is a major reason women stay in abusive relationships.

Lack of Information

Due to lack of knowledge about existing services or facilities, many abused women continue to stay in their abusive relationships.

Emotional Factor

Another reason to the question why do women stay in abusive relationships is that they have deep feelings of love and emotional bondage for the abusers. They may believe that their violent partners will mend their way. The perpetrator can trigger the woman’s addictive love, her guilt, her concern for him, her feeling that she is responsible for his life and feelings, her hopefulness, her idea that she should be a trusting, nurturing, forgiving woman, and that it would be wrong not to forgive him. Another reason is that the women continue to stay in the abusive relationships for the sake of their children. Many women are killed when they try to leave. Constant abuse makes women so psychologically dependent that they fail to accurately judge what is right and what is wrong for them.


Signs of manipulation include the following:

The abuser tries to evoke sympathy from the victims, her friends and family.

He is overly charming, reminding of all the good time they had together.

He tries to buy the victim back with romantic gifts, dinner, flowers.

He tries to seduce the victim when the latter is vulnerable.

He uses veiled threats.

His promises to change do not match his behaviour.

(Is He Going To Change)


Unequal gender roles

Factors contributing to these unequal power relations include: socio-economic forces, the family institution where power relations are enforced, control over female sexuality, belief in the inherent superiority of males, and legislation and cultural sanctions that have traditionally denied women an independent legal and social status.

Domestic violence behaviors are learned and reinforced in the family as well as in all of society’s major institutions. Socialization process helps in shaping gender differences. It is indeed within the family that male roles are reinforced and also female roles are encouraged by parents and other family members.

Another important thing to be noted is that men may have society’s implied permission to hit their wives or girlfriends. Friends and family members may blame the victim for being in the situation which has the effect of giving the man a “hitting license”.

According to the booklet ‘Statistics in Mauritius, A gender Approach, MGECDFW, 2010’, the main causes of family problems identified in new adults cases reported in 2009 was verbal assault followed by physical assault, alcoholism, extra marital affairs and interference of in-laws.

Alcohol as precursor to domestic violence

Drug and alcohol abuse may be a precursor to domestic violence. Excessive consumption of alcohol and other drugs incite aggressive and violent male behaviour towards women. The number one commonality within the dynamics of most alcoholic families is poor emotional wellbeing.

Extra-marital affairs

Extramarital affair has been observed as a factor which contributes to violence within the family and shatters the relationship between couples. The betrayal of infidelity cuts much deeper than a simple broken vow. Some professionals link the experience to that of physical and emotional abuse. Spouses who have been cheated on often suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, humiliation, guilt, and a sense that somehow “it was their fault” or they “deserved it”, especially if the cheating continues.

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Lack of economic resources

Lack of economic resources underpins women’s vulnerability to violence and their difficulty in extricating themselves from an abusive relationship. The link between violence and lack of economic wealth and dependence is circular. On the other hand, without economic independence, women have no power to escape from a violent relationship. The reverse of this argument also holds true, whereby women’s increasing economic activity and independence is viewed as a threat which may to increased male violence.

Interference of in-laws

In some cases of domestic abuse, the violence does not restrict itself to the partners. The interference of in-laws can act as a cause of conflict in their marital lives. Other family members can be seen as participating in the violence, influencing, and even fuelling it.

Intergenerational cycle of violence

An influential factor of domestic violence in society is the continuation of a generational cycle of abuse and/or a history of abuse in the family. Straus et al. (1980) theorized that violence is learned behaviour and cyclical. In other words, the abusive husband learned violence from his father and will probably pass it to his son. Children who grow up in an environment where control is maintained through verbal threats and intimidation and conflicts escalate into physical violence, are more likely to adopt the same methods of abuse as adults.


Domestic violence is more frequent where individuals experience loss of physical health and wage-earning power. The frustration of the inability to “make ends meet” increases conflicts in relationships. In the face of inadequate coping mechanisms, violence erupts in the home.

Lack of understanding and good communication skills

The emancipation of women has changed the conventional roles of women. Many women work and are breaking from traditional roles. Sometimes lack of time spent with husband or children can generate misunderstandings and marit




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