Final Blog Post -Tobacco smoking in India from Feminist Perspective

India is located in southern Asia and has the second largest population in the world. While the achievements of this country are great, this country is still labeled as one of the worst places for women to live in. These ratings are due to many factors, but especially because of the acceptance of violence against women. This factor in specific is related to other health concerns, such as the affects of physical and mental abuse, and even the asthmatic rates and COPD rates as a result of the increased tobacco smoking to deal with this stress. Through a feminist perspective, these health concerns can begin to  be addressed and decrease in risk.

In India, a woman’s main priority is to help the husband continue the family tradition by taking care of their children. Arranged marriages are still popular among young women. These marriages are usually organized by family members based on economic advantages. The women often marry at a young age to men who are much older than them. Around 45% of women who get married are under the age of 18. (Kapadia-Kundu) The early marrying age of these women restricts the things that they are able to do, such as getting further education or a good career, and can negatively impact their health and happiness. Many of those that marry young are also exposed to physical and sexual abuse. About 40 percent of married women will be physically abused by their spouse. (Kapadia-Kundu) Many of these violent incidents occur when the woman is believed to have acted in a way that does not follow the expectations of the gender roles assigned to them.The patriarchal society remains a large reason as to why domestic violence and sexual assault still remains a large problem for women in India today. While there is some government action against the issue, such as the Criminal Law Bill in 2013, there are many incidents still occurring today.  In addition, when arranged marriages occur, the woman often has to move far away from home and loses many friends and social relationships that they have had. This affects the amount of social support that the woman receives and can often result in the woman feeling trapped and alone.

There is a continual rise in the number of female tobacco smokers in India. While there are many factors that maybe contribute to the increase in smokers, there seems to be a relationship between smoking rates of females and the rate of reported domestic violence experienced by these women. The population based study conducted by Leland Ackerson concludes that women who resided in homes where abuse was reported were more likely to smoke and chew tobacco than those who have never experienced violence (Ackerson 2007). Some women abuse tobacco as a way to alleviate stress caused by domestic abuse. However, long term tobacco use can lead to many long term health problems, such as asthma, COPD, and emphysema.  In fact, the increase in the use of tobacco has already affected the asthmatic rates of females In India. Those who reported being abused by their spouse in the past were at a much higher risk of being asthmatic than those who do not experience domestic violence (Subramanian 2007). Furthermore, the Journal of Adolescent Health stated that sexual abuse of females predicts their likelihood of smoking as they age (Kristman-Valente 2013). Since women in India typically marry their spouse at an early age, they are exposed to the risk of tobacco abuse much earlier and therefore experiences medical issues much earlier (Kapadia-Kundu).

I have decided to choose to look at the increase in the rate of female tobacco smokers in India from a feminist perspective. Feminists Anthropology has been around from 1850 and has had different movements that addressed different issues regarding gender during each time period (Bratton 1998). The main goal of the first movement was to broaden the female perspective of ethnography, which is the study of people. Much of the research that was done of females up to that time was done through the perspective of a man. Many of the medical research that was done was only studied The work of second movement was to categorize sex as biologically defined and gender as culturally defined. Before this movement, there was no distinct definition of sex and gender.  According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, gender socialization is defined as a woman being defined as a woman only after birth if they have feminine traits and behaviors (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2016). This is told to be the nurture portion of nature versus nurture.  The third, or current, movement focuses on “…production and work, reproduction and sexuality, and gender and the state” (Bratton 1998). For example, it focused on trying to overcome the stereotype that women’s reproductive needs are less important or weaker than that of a male (Martin 1997). The main idea of feminist theories focuses on political, economic, and social inequalities due to gender and how these inequalities are affecting the well-being of females and males. The lecture of the feminist perspective from week 1 of the ANP 270 course at Michigan State University states that feminism was originally focused on the inferior view of females, but now works to address the inequalities between male and female.  It also uses intersectionality, such as the intersecting factors of ethnicity, religion, education level, class, and sexual orientation, and other theoretical perspectives to address their issues (Gabriel 2016)

In a country where women are actively involved in government positions as powerful as “speaker of the lower house of parliament” and the “leader of the ruling party”, it is surprising to hear that India is labeled as one of the worst countries for a women because of the dangers of living there (Reuters 2011). One of the factors that contribute to this statement is the high occurrence of violent events against women. According to BBC News, there were approximately 309,546 crimes reported against women in 2013, with a third of them being domestic violence cases (BBC 2014). While cases of domestic violence have been slightly addressed by legislation, with laws such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005, the Act was unsuccessful in reducing violence because of the mild punishment for these criminals, lack of law enforcement, and simply because many women do not report such an event in fear of ridicule or harassment (Khazan 2012 and International Center for Research on Women 2009). In fact, the Washington Post reported that sexual assault and violence in India still persist because the country’s lack of police officers serving the public, especially female, and the patriarchal society’s acceptance of violence against women. They reported that females would be more likely to report violent crimes to female police officers than male officers (Khazan 2012). In addition, some of the government officials and the general public believe that domestic violence is a justifiable act. According to UNICEF, a majority of the children in India, both male and female, believe that domestic violence is acceptable (UNICEF 2012). This may be the result of growing up in a household where they were taught that violence against females is the social norm.

In a broad sense, the increase in tobacco use among Indian females  may not seem to be an issue of inequality between genders; However, there are underlying causes behind this increase in tobacco use that are due to the many cases of inequalities between males and females. Some of these factors include widespread acceptance of domestic violence, lack of strict political policies and control of violent males, lack of social or public support for victims, and the overall patriarchal outlook of the society in India. These inequalities are apparent in many households and remain a problem in the nation as a whole. Young children are growing up with these inequalities in their home and starting to believe and accept that domestic violence is justifiable. According to UNICEF, 57% of boys and 53% of girls aged 15-19 in India believe that domestic violence against wives is acceptable (UNICEF 2012). Many of the victims who report these events are also ignored or ridiculed by the small number of law enforcement officers. They are also ridiculed by family members and the public eye. In addition, there is a shortage of familial support systems or public groups that the women are able to visit. Since the Indian government has not focused on addressing these domestic violence cases enough, there is a significant lack of  resources established which influences the women to be silent towards this mistreatment.  Many women that are living in these stressful household environments and do not have the support from law enforcement and family members may pick up tobacco use as a way to alleviate stress. Tobacco use has many negative effects, such as risk for heart disease and peripheral artery disease, and may affect the health of those around the smoker as well (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016).   Therefore, the acceptance of domestic violence in India is, in a sense, related to the increased health risks for women that smoke tobacco.

There are many political conflicts associated with the rate of domestic abuse in India.  According to the Washington Post, the survey of judges in 1996 reported that 68 percent of them believed that the way a women dresses can be an invitation for rape (Khazan 2012). In India, many victims are reluctant to report their abuse because the law enforcement officials are known to harass or blame the victim. In addition, there is a need for more police officers who serve the public, specifically female police officers. While there are large police forces in India, two-thirds of the officers serve the politicians and diplomats instead of “policing” (Khazan 2012). The women in India are hesitant in trusting male police office because they are known to question the victim without being sensitive to their situation, almost as if the victim has to relive the situation. They do not have the specific training needed to address these victims with care. There are also cases in which women are bribed to drop charges against the suspect (Khazan 2012). In some cases, women experience more violent situations when reporting a domestic abuse.

In addition, there are many social influences that contribute to the high rate of domestic violence against women. Since India’s has a very patriarchal society, there are not that many legal policies implemented that prohibit this behavior. Furthermore, there is not very many rape or domestic violence victim support groups that women have to report such behavior since violence against women is widely tolerated. This increase in tobacco use, in addition to the amount of stress endured, can impact the overall health of women in India. This is an important public health issue because smoking not only harms the smoker, but also the people around them. Firsthand smoke can cause increase the risks of peripheral artery disease and LDL rates. The risk of heart disease also increases for both the smoker and those that inhale the secondhand smoke.

Violence is considered a serious public health concern because it not only affects women’s physical health, but also impacts their mental and reproductive health as well. However, it becomes very difficult to treat every case of violence since many cases go unreported for the many reasons listed earlier. (Babu 2009). If they are not being reported, then the Indian government is less likely to believe that it is a serious issue that impacts the health of the women in the country. Many health care providers used to treat patients with the mindset that the mind and body were separate when it came to maintaining health, however, in modern medicine they have now learned that the two can interact with each other.  In fact, the new biopsychosocial model shows that there are many factors that contribute to your overall health (Straub 2015). There are biological factors, such as their genetic material, psychological factors such as behaviors, and social factors such as financial status, that contribute to the overall health of the person. Many mental health problems can also be physiological problems (influenced by physical factors) as well. In addition, after watching the guest lecture with Mickey Sperlich this week regarding PTSD and reproductive health, it can be concluded that sexual assault of Indian women can affect mental health, such as with PTSD or weak relationship between the mother and child, and low birth weights in pregnant women (reproductive health).

There are many lasting effects of physical abuse that go undetected when using biochemical or mechanical methods of diagnosis. The biochemical method relies solely on science for explanations to health problems and it becomes difficult to treat problems that are also influenced by social, political, or economical factors, which is often the case when treating someone that has faced a traumatic situation. In addition, biomedicine is about treating the individual, rather than a population. For example, it becomes very difficult to treat a whole population when there are so many different factors and the degree it impacts each person is different. The effect of violence on Indian women can be different from other countries and it becomes difficult for the medical professional to treat symptoms that are not physiologically based in terms of the biochemical model of medicine.

While these problems still persist today, there are many changes beginning to take effect in India. I think that pushing laws and harsher punishment against violent people will really decrease the risk of these health concerns, both mental and physical.

Works Cited:

Babu, Bontha “Domestic violence against women in eastern India: a population-based study on prevalence and related issues” BMC Public Health 2009

BBC News India “100 Women 2014: Violence at home is India’s ‘failing’ 2014

International Center for Research on Women “Assessing India’s Domestic Violence Laws” 2009

Khazan, Olga “10 Reasons why India has a sexual violence problem”  Washington Post 2012

Reuters News “Most Dangerous Countries for Women” 2011

Straub, R. O. (2015).  Health psychology:  A biopsychosocial approach.  (4e).  New York: Worth Publishers.

UNICEF “A Statistical Snapshot of Violence against Adolescent Girls” 2012

Ackerson, Leland “Exposure to domestic violence associated with adult smoking in India: A population      based study” Tob Control 2007

Khazan, Olga “10 Reasons Why India has a Sexual Violence Problem” The Washington Post 2012

Kristman-Valente, Allison “Child Physical and Sexual Abuse and Cigarette Smoking in Adolescence and     Adulthood” Journal of Adolescent Health 2013

Nandita Kapadia-Kundu, “Whose Mistake? Gender Roles and Physical Violence among Young Married Women”  Vol. 42, No. 44 (Nov. 3 – 9, 2007), pp. 71-78

UNICEF “A Statistical Snapshot of Violence against Adolescent Girls” 2012

Subramanian SV “Domestic violence is associated with adult and childhood asthma prevalence in India”     Int Journal of Epidemiology 2007

Bratton, Angela “Feminist Anthropology” 1998

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking” 17 Feb. 2016

Gabriel, Cynthia Ph.D “Feminist Theory” Powerpoint 2016

UNICEF “A Statistical Snapshot of Violence against Adolescent Girls” 2012

Stanford  Encyclopedia of Philosophy “Feminist Perspectices on Sex and Gender” Jan 29, 2016

Nandita Kapadia-Kundu, “Whose Mistake? Gender Roles and Physical Violence among Young Married Women”  Vol. 42, No. 44 (Nov. 3 – 9, 2007), pp. 71-78