Toward Freedom from Domestic Violence: The Neglected Obvious


Agarwal, Bina, and Pradeep Panda. 2007. “Toward Freedom from Domestic Violence: The Neglected Obvious.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 8 (3): 359-88.

Authors: Bina Agarwal, Pradeep Panda


Freedom is a key concept in Amartya Sen’s definitions of capabilities and development. This paper focuses on a serious and neglected form of unfreedom — domestic violence — and argues that freedom from such violence must be integral to evaluating developmental progress. Conceptually, it notes that a person’s well-being can depend not only on absolute measures of capabilities and functionings but also on relative capabilities and functionings within families; and this can even lead to perverse effects. A man married to a woman better employed than himself, for instance, may be irked by her higher achievement and physically abuse her, thus reducing her well-being achievement (e.g. by undermining her health) and her well-being freedom (e.g. by reducing her work mobility or social interaction). Empirically the paper focuses especially on a hitherto unexplored factor — a woman’s property status — and demonstrates that owning a house or land significantly reduces her risk of marital violence. Employment, by contrast, unless it is regular, makes little difference. Immovable property provides a woman economic and physical security, enhances her self-esteem, and visibly signals the strength of her fall-back position and tangible exit option. It can both deter violence and provide an escape if violence occurs. Also unlike employment, property ownership is not found to be associated with perverse outcomes, in that a propertied woman married to a propertyless man is not subject to greater violence.

Keywords: domestic violence, women's property status, capabilities and functions, freedom, well-being

Topics: Development, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights, Violence

Year: 2007

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