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Reframing agency in abusive contexts: beyond 'free choice' and 'open resistance'

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South Asian women's experiences of family abuse are not fully understood by state policy, particularly in relation to women's 'choices' in response to abuse. Leaving an abusive relationship tends to be deemed the most, if not only, appropriate response. By drawing on the experiences of 11 Pakistani Muslim women, this paper argues that these simplistic assumptions overlook the diverse strategies women employ in response to abuse. These strategies range from compliance to overt forms of resistance, and they are complex and, at times, can be counterproductive and self-destructive. However, they challenge notions of passivity, and bring to light agentive behaviour best understood in the context of subordination and oppression that created the conditions of its enactment. What is important is that this paper should not create complacency in policy makers by reframing women as agents perfectly capable of altering the structures and constraints within which they are embedded. This paper proposes that government policy and service provider practice be shaped by an alternative perspective on women's agency, one that recognises 'exit' as laden with difficulties and consequences for abused women, and one that does not insist upon physical acts of resistance to oppression as markers of agentive behaviour.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Email: [email protected]

Publication date: February, 2018

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Gender-Based Violence (JGBV), is the first international journal based in Europe to show case the work of scholars across disciplinary and topic boundaries, and from a range of methodologies.

    The journal acknowledges both the breadth of gender-based violence (GBV) and its links to gendered inequalities. It aims to continue to document the voices and experiences of victims and survivors of GBV, to publish work regarding those who perpetrate GBV and of the varied and complex social structures, inequalities and gender norms through which GBV is produced and sustained. The journal recognises the intersection of gender with other identities and power relations, such as ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, faith, disability and economic status.

    JGBV will publish high quality papers that contribute to understanding of GBV, policy, and/or activism, on sexual violence, domestic abuse, ‘honour’-based violence, prostitution, trafficking and/or reproductive violence and abuse in a wide range of intimate, familial, community and societal contexts.

    The editors invite interest from scholars working across the social sciences and related fields including social policy, sociology, politics, criminology, law, social psychology, development and economics, as well as disciplines allied to medicine, health and wellbeing.

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