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

Author: Nughmana Mirza1
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  • 1 University of Glasgow, UK
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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.

  • 1 University of Glasgow, UK

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