Crossing the threshold: Engendered definitions of socially acceptable domestic violence in Chennai, India

Vivian F. Go, Sethulakshmi C. Johnson, Margaret E. Bentley, Sudha Sivaram, A. K. Srikrishnan, David D. Celentano, Suniti Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of this study was to examine the pathways by which gender norms may influence marital violence in low-income communities of Chennai, India. As part of a multi-site international behavioural HIV intervention trial, 48 in-depth interviews and 14 focus groups with men and women were conducted in two randomly selected low-income communities within the city. Interviews were taped, transcribed, translated, coded and analysed to identify recurrent themes. A multi-layered conceptual framework was used to examine individual, relational, community and societal level determinants of marital violence in this setting. Participants noted that husbands hold decision-making power in economic, social and sexual spheres. Clear patterns of violence were present; respondents reported that husbands regularly beat wives in most marriages. Marital conflicts were intensified by the presence of community level stressors such as poverty and unemployment. Participants perceived violence to be a necessary tool that served to discipline wives and ultimately enforce gender norms. Although many respondents felt wife-beating was the norm, the acceptable intensity of violence varied by gender. Interventions that reconsider gender-based roles and empower men and women to lower the threshold of socially acceptable violence should be developed to alleviate the consequences of violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-408
Number of pages16
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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