Rutgers Senior Tackles Domestic Violence Against South Asian Women
Prachi Baodhankar merges interests in medicine and advocacy to support immigrant women
Prachi Baodhankar became intrigued by the volumes of research on the brains of violent offenders during a high school AP psychology course. But she noticed a discrepancy.
“There was so much data and analyses on the likes of Ted Bundy,” says the pre-med senior cell biology and neurosciences major. “But I was actually more interested in the effect of violence on the brains of victims.”
At Rutgers, Baodhankar, a Holmdel, New Jersey, native whose family is from India, decided to meld her interest in neuroscience with woman-centered advocacy, using her skills and passion to help South Asian women in the United States break free from lives of violence.
“It’s truly an unreported epidemic - two out of five South Asian women have experienced domestic violence,” Baodhankar says, citing one of few studies on the subject conducted by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health.
There are factors specific to the South Asian community Baodhankar believes contribute to both marital violence against women and the subsequent silencing of victims. She says it is a culture characterized by strong patriarchal beliefs and fear of authority in which a woman seeking assistance outside the family may often meet disapproval.
“Many South Asian women emigrate from cultures where the needs of family units are prioritized over those of individuals,” says Baodhankar. She adds that a seemingly passive woman may truly be in need of assistance, but she may be afraid, in a strange land, surrounded by strange people, and in a culture she doesn’t fully understand.
Intent upon helping women find their power and supporting survivors of domestic violence in a sustainable manner, Baodhankar became an economic empowerment clinic volunteer with Manavi, a New Jersey-based women’s rights organization that specifically addresses the short- and long-term needs of domestic violence survivors from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
According to Baodhankar, who is a Leadership Scholar at Rutgers’ Institute for Women’s Leadership, financial education may be a more proactive and effective intervention than, for example, medical care in reaction to domestic violence situations. She teaches women who have left their support systems behind in their home countries how to survive financially outside of their abusive relationships.
“Whether a victim needs housing, food, or transportation, it all boils down to money,” she says. “An economically knowledgeable woman is more independent and has the confidence necessary to manage her own affairs.”
Baodhankar’s previous internship with the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network, work with a nonprofit for children with disabilities in India, and volunteer service at a pediatric clinic in Costa Rica exposed her to the need for more cultural competence amongst health and service care providers. She finds helping South Asian women shift their own perspectives about culturally defined gender roles and abusive behavior the most challenging aspects of intervention.
“Victims may say things like, ‘He’s allowed because he’s the man,’ ‘It’s my duty as a wife to please him,’ ‘This is my fate,’ or ‘I must have done something wrong and this is my punishment,’” she says. “We work together to recognize and overcome these stresses.”
Baodhankar’s work with Manavi complements her senior honors thesis research in the School of Arts and Sciences under the guidance of her advisors Judy Postmus, director of Rutgers’ Center on Violence Against Women and Children, and Julie Rajan of the Women’s and Gender Studies department. She will present her research during the Aresty Research Center’s undergraduate symposium in April.