Researchers from Birmingham Business School have found an unexpected correlation between an Indian government initiative to support poor rural households and an increase in violence against women.

Economics researchers Sofia Amaral and Dr Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, along with Dr Rudra Sensarma of the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode, explored the outcomes of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) – the Indian Government’s flagship anti-poverty programme which aims to increase opportunities for the poor. In particular it strives to improve women’s access to the labour market.

Evidence from their study has found that “…increased female labour participation following the NREGS has increased total gender-based violence.”

The findings, using data from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, also showed that there have been “…increases in kidnappings, sexual harassments and domestic violence, while dowry deaths have decreased.”

This may be caused by the financial empowerment that NREGS may bring to women, shaking up traditional family roles and structures and causing a backlash leading to higher incidents of domestic violence.

As women are also spending more time outside of the house, the study considers that this might also bring increased opportunities for exposure to unsafe commutes or unsecured workplaces.

Another interesting finding of the report is that, while other forms of violence against women have increased, dowry deaths – typically an economically motivated crime – decreased.

“This suggests that participation in NREGS can financially empower women to face pressure from the husband’s family….lower dowry deaths…could also mean that the husband’s family now has less need to extract payment from the bride’s parents.”

The team concludes that while the programme was designed to tackle poverty, the Indian government must focus its efforts on security and policing to counteract these consequences for women’s well-being.