New research talks about measures to address gender-based violence in India
The study took place in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP), and involved the largest randomised controlled trial with a police agency.
A protest in India against crime against women in 2021. (Photo by PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images)
A NEW research from Akshay Mangla, associate professor in International Business at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, has found that registration of cases on crimes against women in India increases significantly in police stations with dedicated women’s help desks (WHDs).
The study, which was published in ‘Science’ on July 8, suggests the potential of gender-targeted police reforms in tackling crime against women, a press release from Saïd Business School said.
Co-authored with Dr Sandip Sukhtankar and Dr Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner from the University of Virginia, the study took place in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP), and involved the largest randomised controlled trial with a police agency till date. Of the 180 stations studied, those with WHDs registered 14.1 per cent more cases of crimes against women, than those without.
India, which in a 2018 poll was named the ‘most dangerous country in the world to be a woman’, currently ranks 140 out of 156 countries on international measures of gender inequality, and is home to some of the world’s highest rates of gender-based-violence (GBV). An estimated four in 10 women in India report having experienced domestic violence in their lifetimes.
Police reform is believed to be instrumental in addressing this crisis; many crimes against women in India currently go unregistered, inhibiting women’s access to the justice system.
Mangla and his co-authors partnered with the MP police department between 2018 and 2020 to evaluate the impact of a program that randomised the introduction of WHDs in 180 police stations serving 23 million people.
The WHDs were designed to make police officers more responsive to women’s security, offering a private space for women to make a complaint to an officer trained on gender sensitisation and case registration procedures.
The police stations in the study were randomly assigned into one of three groups: control stations (without WHDs); ‘woman-run’ WHDs assigned female officers; and ‘regular’ WHDs that did not specify gender of the assigned officer (the majority of which were run by men).
Over the study period, the research team found that police stations with WHDs registered 1,905 more domestic incident reports (DIRs), which initiate civil court proceedings; and 3,360 more first information reports (FIRs), which initiate criminal proceedings.
The increase in FIRs were driven entirely by WHDs run by women, highlighting the agency of female officers, who appeared to be particularly responsive to WHD training.
The findings suggest cautious optimism about the potential of gender-targeted policing. However, the authors acknowledge that sustained action to advance women’s cases through the justice system, as well as broader social and economic support for women, will be necessary for addressing the epidemic of GBV in India and elsewhere.
Drawing on the research findings, the Madhya Pradesh Police will now scale up the WHD programme to 700 police stations serving most of the state.
Mangla and his co-authors will continue to work with the police, examining whether the observed changes in police behavior can be sustained and how the program adapts at scale.
Commenting on the findings, Mangla said, “Our results suggest that police agencies can better serve women by placing female officers on the frontline. But simply adding more women is not enough. To encourage responsiveness to women’s cases, frontline officers need continuous training, monitoring and support. We also recognize that gender-based violence has multiple dimensions and deep-seated causes. Case registration by the police is one small, but significant, step forward.”
Rishi Shukla, former director-general of the Madhya Pradesh Police and former director of India’s premier investigating agency — the Central Bureau of Investigation, said, “Crime against women is a major challenge for the Indian police. Sincere systematic as well as innovative responses have been made over the years to encourage women to reach out to the police in times of need.
“In the state of Madhya Pradesh, we have been seeking evidence-based policy making and implementation. J-PAL’s research on this subject is significant, as it highlights the improved quality of response of the police to women needing assistance. The rigorous research has come up with excellent policy inputs which would improve access of women to the police and mainstream reforms at the police station level.”
This research was funded primarily by the Crime and Violence Initiative of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), as well as the World Bank’s Sexual Violence Research Initiative, with supplemental funding provided by the University of Virginia’s Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation and the University of Oxford.