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Women’s advocacy

‘Domestic Violence and the Workplace: A Qualitative Study with Men’

Domestic violence and the workplace

When workers are experiencing or engaging in violence at home, the impact is felt in the workplace. Historically, workplace policies on violence and harassment have been limited to workplace issues, however with global evidential studies and new policies, including ILO Convention 190 (on violence and harassment in the world of work), domestic violence is increasingly recognised as a workplace issue, as it impacts not only individuals and families, but also communities and society as a whole. When workers are experiencing or engaging in domestic violence, its impacts resonate in the workplace – affecting employment, productivity, and health and safety.

In 2019, the ITF conducted a qualitative study with male perpetrators of domestic violence in the state of Maharashtra, India – working with the Pune based NGO SAMYAK (Samyak is a Communication and Resource Centre on gender, masculinities, health and development) – to understand how work is impacted by domestic violence. This is the first ever study in Asia/Pacific that highlights the link between domestic violence and its impact at work. The study had its own set of challenges and constraints because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Alongside this study, unions in India, with support from the ITF, are leading a national study on understanding the impacts of domestic violence at work from a survivor’s perspective.  Read more here about this groundbreaking study.  Email to find out more about research on domestic violence at work.

A full report of this qualitative study with men will be available soon!

Some of the key findings from the study are:

1. Male respondents feel pressurised by patriarchal social norms to ‘perform’ control over women and children in their family.

“….. my grandfather and my father did control women in our family… I feel that I also need to control my wife to maintain the tradition and keep our family intact”.

2. Male respondents justify their actions of domestic violence, power and control.  Almost all respondents agreed with the statement that ‘men should control their wives’ and gave various reasons for their entitlement to this behaviour.

“If man is under stress, he commits violence. If woman does any mistake in household work then it’s okay to beat her”.

“It is a family… such incidences are going to happen…not a big deal. A man can slap his wife if she does any mistake”.

Text Box: Almost all male respondents agreed with the statement that ‘men should control their wives’.

“It is a family… such incidences are going to happen…not a big deal. A man can slap his wife if she does any mistake”.

3. Male respondents associate domestic violence with physical and verbal forms of abuse and do not recognize emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse or coercively controlling behavior as forms of violence.

“There is only one reason behind violence and that is sex.  Wife is not our enemy.  Everyone uses their wife for having sex.  If you ask her for sex and she refuse it then what can we do?  We are men, we give all things to her, give bread to her, then she should satisfy us.  Otherwise what reason we have wife?”.

4. Male respondents are negatively affected at work by their perpetration of domestic violence.  Stories shared by respondents show that engaging in domestic violence has a range of mild to severe consequences for their work performance and productivity at the workplace.

“I got suspended because of the negligence on the duty, as I was mentally disturbed due to violence committed by me against my wife I was sent on mandatory leave.”

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“I prefer not to go on duty when I am not in good mental condition. I have to face the consequences of that. My seniors report against me. It has happened 2-3 times before and now I prefer to stay at home instead of risking the life of people”.

5. Workplace accidents caused by male respondents impacted by their perpetration of domestic violence, put the safety of passengers and fellow employees at risk and are a significant cost to the employer.

“As I committed domestic violence against my spouse, I dashed my bus against a car…”

Text Box: …absenteeism, poor performances, distraction at work, accidents at work - are the cost of domestic violence that are paid by employer.

“It impacts on my driving, if I have some family tension that I do mistakes while driving. It goes wrong. Can’t concentrate in work in such situation…. Nothing else”.

“I can’t concentrate at work. Once I met an accident while there were passengers on board. Me and passenger got injured in that accident.”

“I had a fight with my mother before leaving home. I went to work but forgot to check the vehicle. I directly started it. There were many passengers on board. Later I realized that the breaks of that bus vehicle were not working properly. I got so tensed but somehow, I managed to stop the vehicle and no injury happened to the passengers. But in that incidence a road side lamb died under the vehicle”.

6. Male respondents need a safe space at work to share their problems, talk about their experiences and seek professional counselling support. The majority of respondents shared that they prefer not to talk about their stress with anyone and prefer to deal with it at a personal level.  However, if provided with an appropriate service, they would be willing to seek professional counselling support at the workplace. They had the opinion that such support at the workplace might help reduce their engagement in domestic violence, reduce stress and create a more productive and safe work environment.

“Availability of counseling facility at the workplace will help me to manage the stress. It may also help me control my violent behaviours at home.”

“There is no help available. I have no option but to stay calm”.

“There are not such facilities available at workplace. I talk with my colleagues about my problems and nothing else”.

Domestic Violence and the World of Work

Domestic violence is increasingly recognised as an issue that impacts not only individuals and families, but also communities and society as a whole. When workers are involved in or affected by domestic violence, its impacts resonate in the workplace – affecting employment, productivity, and health and safety.

Women are at a higher risk of losing their job when they are facing domestic violence, as it can directly impact on their work, which further compounds their vulnerability. In some cases, domestic violence can follow them to work. It enters the workplace in a range of ways – from harassment and violence happening at work (by co-workers or external perpetrators), stress on co-workers, to death in the workplace for workers and others.

“Living with abuse at home is so terrifying. But when I became viewed as a bad employee and (my) job changed, then I had to leave and move away, nothing in (my) life felt safe anymore.” – Woman worker facing domestic violence

On the other hand, being employed is a key pathway to leaving a violent relationship. The financial security that employment affords can allow women to escape the isolation of an abusive relationship, and maintain, as far as possible, their home and standard of living, both for themselves, and their children. The workplace provides positive opportunities to disrupt domestic violence, keep women safe and support them to live lives free of violence.

Domestic violence also has a significant economic cost to work, as established by the outcomes of national studies on domestic violence at work conducted in 10 countries globally

“I was thinking about the relationship. I didn’t have my mind on what I was doing driving an 18000-pound forklift. I spilled one of the bumps of lumber and it broke open. I had to do a lot more work to put it back (and) wasted (a lot of) time.” – Male worker engaging in domestic violence 

National domestic violence at work studies

Globally, employers and governments for the longest time have not recognized the link between domestic violence and the workplace.

However, labour unions have been playing an important role in breaking the culture of silence. Since 2011, 10 countries around the world, including countries in South Asia, have conducted large–scale national studies on domestic violence in the workplace.

These national studies have revealed consistent outcomes, and the results show the  impacts of domestic violence in the workplace. The studies conducted in these countries have been catalysts for policy reforms.

Why unions are conducting a national study in India

The transport unions in India have recognised the need and potential for advocacy work on the issue of domestic violence and setting employer accountability to address the impacts, however, there is a lack of evidence and data in India on this issue.  The national study being conducted by transport unions, which was launched in November 2019, is the first study in India that will highlight the links between domestic violence and its impact in the world of work.

If policies are not gender sensitive and inclusive, there is grave danger that levels of domestic violence will worsen and women’s participation in the workforce will decrease. Against a backdrop of worsening violence against women in the country, it’s the apt time to bridge the data gap on domestic violence and its impacts on the workplace and to reform policies.

The new ILO Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work recognises domestic violence as a workplace issue – noting that it “can affect employment, productivity and health and safety, and that governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations and labour market institutions can help, as part of other measures, to recognise, respond to and address the impacts of domestic violence.”

The national study will therefore also create a foundation for lobbying the government to ratify ILO Convention 190.

Trade unions in India are calling for support across sectors to conduct this national study, and from the results to shape an advocacy campaign and to lobby the government for legal reforms, including ratification of the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190).  

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