A groundbreaking study published in the esteemed journal JAMA Psychiatry on June 28 has uncovered a disturbing connection between soaring temperatures and a significant increase in domestic violence targeting women.
Focusing on three South Asian nations—India, Pakistan, and Nepal—the study, conducted between 2010 and 2018, drew on the experiences of thousands of girls and women who bravely shared accounts of emotional, physical, and sexual violence they endured.
The research also served as a chilling warning, suggesting that unless urgent measures are taken to curb emissions responsible for global warming and climate change, India could face the highest rate of violence against women among the three countries by the 2090s.
What did this study unveil?
The findings indicate that a mere one-degree Celsius rise in average annual temperature led to a shocking surge of over 6.3 per cent in incidents of physical and sexual domestic violence across the studied countries.
To obtain these alarming results, the researchers closely monitored 194,871 girls and women aged between 15 and 49, analysing the prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) encompassing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse throughout India, Pakistan, and Nepal.
"Our study has discovered a significant association between higher ambient temperatures and the prevalence of IPV against women," asserted the study, underscoring that each one-degree Celsius increase in the annual mean temperature corresponded to a 4.49 percent spike in IPV cases.
Moreover, the research projected a potential 21 percent increase in IPV prevalence by the end of this century under the "unlimited emissions scenarios." However, the study also offered a glimmer of hope, suggesting that taking steps to limit emissions contributing to climate change and global warming could "moderately increase" the IPV prevalence.
Further analysis of the projected rise in violence revealed that physical violence accounted for 28.3 percent, while sexual violence constituted 26.1 percent—both significantly higher than emotional violence, which stood at 8.9 percent.
Michelle Bell, a distinguished professor of environmental health at Yale University and co-author of the study, commented on the findings, stating that there were "many potential pathways, both physiological and sociological, through which higher temperatures could affect the risk of violence."
The ramifications of extreme heat trigger a domino effect of socio-economic consequences, including crop failures, income instability, and the confinement of individuals to their homes, often without means to earn a daily wage. These factors exert immense pressure on households, culminating in a surge of violence against women.
Furthermore, the study unearthed a stark contrast in IPV prevalence, with lower-income and rural households experiencing significantly higher rates compared to their higher-income counterparts. The research encompassed participants from all income groups, shedding light on the pervasive nature of the issue.
Bell highlighted the mounting evidence indicating that extreme heat could induce stress, diminish inhibitions, heighten aggression, and exacerbate mental illness—an observation shared by experts in the field. "There is growing evidence that extreme heat can affect stress, lower inhibitions, increase aggression, and exacerbate mental illness," Bell emphasised, as reported by a United Kingdom-based media outlet.
Heatwave Crisis in India Exacerbates Domestic Violence Epidemic
Drawing a poignant correlation, the study also delved into India's vulnerability to heatwaves and their alarming correlation with a rise in domestic violence. By the 2090s, India is projected to witness the highest prevalence of IPV among the three countries, reaching a staggering 23.5 per cent, as opposed to Nepal's 14.8 per cent and Pakistan's 5.9 per cent. The country has already faced the grim reality of heat-related deaths, with temperatures soaring to a scorching 45 degrees Celsius in certain regions earlier this year.
Suniti Gargi, a former employee of Uttar Pradesh's Commission for Women and a passionate activist, voiced her concerns regarding heatwaves in India. She firmly believes that climate change is exacerbating their intensity, linking the soaring temperatures to a surge in domestic violence. "I've been seeing unusually high temperatures becoming more common," Gargi expressed, echoing her sentiments shared with The Guardian.
She further explained, "They cause tremendous economic stress in families. If a man can migrate to another state to find work, it can help sustain the household. But when he cannot, for whatever reason, his wife becomes the target of his anger and feelings of uselessness."
These disturbing findings demand immediate action and a comprehensive approach to tackle the multifaceted issue at hand. With the evidence mounting, it is imperative for governments, organisations, and communities to address the intertwined crises of climate change and domestic violence, safeguarding the lives and well-being of women and girls across the globe.
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