Gender Violence in IndiaSince the establishment of the first cricket club in 1792 in Kolkata — the world’s second-oldest cricket club — cricket has come to be a key pillar of Indian culture. Fans see the sport as a religion in India: victories have resulted in public holidays (following India’s World Cup triumph in 1983), defeats elicit mourning and fans of the game revere the players in an almost worship-like manner. In 2011, India became the first nation in the world to win the World Cup tournament on home soil. Yet the sport remains predominantly male-dominated, historically excluding females from participating and even spectating matches. So how is Parivartan, a Mumbai-based program that focuses on engaging boys through cricket, helping reduce gender violence in India?

Domestic Violence in India

Although many aspects of society seem to be taking notable leaps forward, there has been little progress in alleviating gender violence in India. In fact, according to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India ranked 134th out of 145 countries for gender parity in 2018, down from 130th in 2017.

Although some structural changes have made a difference in politics and the business sector, with 83.3% of legal frameworks that enforce gender equality under the SDG indicator now in place in India, women still face a lot of discrimination in their day-to-day lives. At any hour, between 30 and 40 women are victims of domestic violence, and that is just the documented figure. Sexist views are part of Indian society, so much so that 50.6% of men and an astonishing 54.4% of women believe that there are situations in which justifications exist for a husband beating his wife.

One contributing factor to the elevated figures around gender violence in India is the custom of dowry. Beliefs and customs around dowries have resulted in the treatment of women as an economic burden. For this reason, a woman has to shell out a required sum of monetary compensation in return for bridal acceptance from the groom. Despite outlawing this practice of paying dowries more than 60 years ago, stories still emerge of marital property disputes that end in murder. India’s National Records Bureau reported that in 2020, on average, dowry-related conflicts led to the killing of 19 women, while 1,700 women committed suicide over “dowry-related issues.”


It is these behaviors that Parivartan, which translates to ‘transformation’ in English, is trying to highlight and erase from Indian society. A collaboration that began in 2008 between the Indian Office of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) and Apnalaya, a small community-based NGO, adopts the model of the U.S. “Coaching Boys Into Men” program and receives funding from The Nike Foundation. Through sports, the program aims to build attitudes and behaviors that end gender violence in India. Young cricketers are encouraged to challenge their views on “eve teasing,” a term that serves to describe the popular and generally accepted ‘boys’ sport’ of sexually harassing women in the streets.

The coaches and mentors in the program act as role models to the younger boys, who in turn develop positive behaviors to take back and share with their community. The program focuses on the idea of empowering women through changing the behaviors of men – achieving gender equality is not possible without changes in men’s lives as well as women’s, as it is more often the men who are committing the violence.

The program runs in local communities and schools, thereby targeting boys from all social classes. The interventions in schools coached athletes from the middle to higher-middle level of economic strata, while the community-level projects takes place in the slums of Mumbai.

Research conducted through a questionnaire showed that the views of participating athletes changed over time. Despite the young age of many of the athletes, their views when starting the program tended to reflect that men are supposed to be “tough, unfaithful and unemotional.” By the end of the program, these perceptions had largely changed.

Looking Ahead

Apart from the ongoing efforts and trends in India, the idea that sport can serve to drive social change and encourage international development continues to gain popularity across the world, with projects such as Grassroot Soccer in South Africa and Fight for Peace in Brazil. This raises hope that one day, sports participation can play a major role is ridding society of gender inequalities and violence. 

– Almaz Nerurkar
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Domestic Violence
The connection between poverty and domestic violence is clear: Women from low-income backgrounds face increased vulnerability to abuse. They also struggle with barriers preventing them from escaping violence. Coming from a socioeconomically deprived household increases the likelihood of women suffering domestic abuse by three and a half times.

Studies in Great Britain also increasingly show the correlation between football (soccer) and alcohol-based intimate partner violence. During global football tournaments, existing abusive tendencies can be triggered.  This creates an environment where alcohol-related crime can surge. Economic status again comes into play here, with crimes involving alcohol being most prevalent among poorer communities.

Economic Abuse

The recognition of economic aspects of abuse is integral to tackling poverty and domestic violence at its core. Economic abuse is the legally recognized term referring to one partner being controlled and abused by the other who has power in terms of money, finances and items that a person’s money can buy. Those who suffer from economic abuse are five times more likely to face physical violence than those who do not. Without access to the funds needed to leave, economic abuse victims stay in a relationship longer and face more harm.  

The damaging effects of the United Kingdom’s austerity measures have also disproportionately impacted women. They have seen both their rights and economic security weakened by austerity cuts. Reduction of public service funding, universal credit and benefit cuts are just some of the factors contributing to alarming statistics. Studies show that women are unfairly impacted, often as second earners or unpaid caregivers. Further, women are more dependent on welfare and benefit schemes than men.


Research found that England’s match losses in previous World Cup tournaments increased incidents of domestic violence by up to 38%. While domestic violence organizations do not deem the matches to be a cause of abuse, they acknowledge the potential for reactions to football matches to aggravate existing patterns. The relationship is complex, with numerous factors involved, and alcohol is likely to be a key component in this, due to the strong presence of alcohol in football culture. It follows that the combination of football culture and alcohol consumption poses a serious risk factor in gender-based violence. Finally, research demonstrates that lower socioeconomic status has an association with an increased tendency towards alcohol-related violence as well as violence in general.

There is an unmistakable trend. The combination of poverty and domestic violence compounded by football culture and alcohol use create a binding force in the increased risk of violence against women.

The 2022 World Cup

While many eagerly anticipate the sporting thrills of the 2022 World Cup in late November, domestic violence against women could escalate after the tournament. The correlation has varied, but domestic violence has regularly increased in World Cup team countries after tournaments throughout the world. A multi-year British study showed abuse increased more when England lost than when England won. While hosting the World Cup in 2017, Russia decriminalized certain types of domestic violence and reduced punishments, which led to an increase in occurrences of domestic abuse.

Qatar, where women have limited freedoms, is this year’s World Cup host. Women in Qatar must seek permission from a male family member before marrying, and when married, they must legally obey their husband. Furthermore, Qatar has no law protecting women from domestic abuse or marital rape. This, of course, prevents many victims from finding justice.

The decision for Qatar to host has already been questioned in regard to controversies surrounding migrant worker exploitation and the country’s lack of support for LGBT rights. However, it may also be time to question the implications of selecting a country so behind on women’s rights and abuse protection to receive such a platform, especially given that football culture can already prompt increases in rates of domestic violence.

Recognizing this threat, international organizations as well as the U.K. government and its largest nonprofit supporting victims of domestic abuse have developed campaigns over the past few years to bring awareness to the grave issue.

Campaigns to Protect Women

In 2020, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU) collaborate to create the #SafeHome campaign to combat the presence of domestic violence in football culture and the rise of such incidents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign involves various videos, with football stars such as Kelly Smith, Oliver Torres and Rosana Augusto offering advice to both victims and perpetrators. It also raises awareness of the scale of this issue. Finally, it highlights the vulnerabilities of unstable financial situations. The #SafeHome toolkit strives to ensure support is accessible to all.

This public appeal for a no-tolerance attitude to domestic violence is part of a four-year-long partnership between FIFA and WHO to keep football culture safe. These efforts will continue during the upcoming World Cup.

The nonprofit Refuge is the U.K.’s largest organization supporting victims of domestic abuse and advocating for protection and funding. Its refuges, community service programs and hotline supported more than 10,000 women and 14,000 children during the 2020 – 2021 pandemic year. It has raised awareness of both the economic vulnerabilities to abuse and the threat of domestic violence surges during football seasons.

The UK’s Domestic Abuse Act

The U.K.’s Domestic Abuse Act of 2021 supports these efforts to combat poverty and domestic violence. It aims to improve victims’ access to support and justice. It broadens the definition of domestic violence to include forms other than physical abuse, such as manipulation, coercion and financial abuse. Crucially, it includes a pledge to give those suffering from domestic violence but lacking stable housing and income priority housing assistance.

Looking to the 2022 World Cup and Beyond

Football culture which economic abuse compounds devastates women and children globally. Thankfully, the recent increased and concentrated efforts of the U.K. government, Refuge and international organizations including the WHO, EU and FIFA are protecting more vulnerable women from poverty and domestic violence. Not only should this increase the protection against a possible surge following the November World Cup, but it should sustain greater awareness and protection far beyond the football tournament itself.

– Lydia Tyler
Photo: Wikipedia Commons