Gender-based violence as manifestation of power marks the intersection of various power regimes in which gender, class/caste, race/ethnicity, religion, age, and other social categories of hierarchy are deeply inscribed. In the past decades, economic globalisation as a mode of modernisation penetrated the Indian society, converged with patriarchal structures, and modernised gender roles and relations. Interplaying with gender norms, the money economy in many places fuels and strengthens patriarchal ‘traditions’, as well as structural violence against women such as prenatal sex determination and dowry systems. Modernisation is not a linear process of eliminating all forms of violence in a society, but it reconfigures some regimes of power and repression while eventually shrinking others or even generating new ones.

Tendencies of neoliberal globalisation integrate young women into the labour market – as textile workers in Tamil Nadu, as skilled IT-agents into call centres, as surrogate mothers in transnational reproductive markets – or include them by microcredits into the financial market. Inclusion disciplines women to become entrepreneurs of themselves in a highly unequal system, e.g., to earn the money to pay their own dowry. The Sumangali system in South India, the precarious and risky work of surrogacy, and the suicides of women after they got highly indebted through microcredits – all these are symptoms of structural violence imposed by economic globalisation. It is a double process of inclusion into export and consumer markets: firstly, those poor and vulnerable groups who were till now at the margins of the wage-work-based development like women, Dalits, Adivasi, Muslims, etc., secondly, of those social areas and human resources like biological and social reproduction that were until recently not subject to commodification.

An intersectional approach opens methodologically ways to think sexism more systematically together with other social categories of oppression. The political-economic perspective on women as (wage) workers in a globalised and structurally violent economy highlights agency and recognises the emergence of new subjectivities while gendered, class/caste, and racial and ethnic inequalities sustain. This perspective of agency opens as well alleys to explore options of possible empowerment within an exploitative context, and of resistance against violation of rights and violence. At the same time, a political-economic analysis linked to postcolonial critique counters an understanding of violence against women as cultural representations as it is often adopted in the case of India.

Referring to human rights, feminist scholars and activists manage to overcome the hegemonic perspective of victimisation and highlight agency as well as survival of violence. The rights perspective constructs women as rights bearers while democratic states are the key duty bearers with regard to respect, protection, and enforcement of rights. Both the rights and agency perspectives allow strategic thinking beyond the powerlessness of vulnerable women and the disempowering impact of structural and personal violence.