Domestic violence is widely accepted in most developing countries, study

Societal acceptance of domestic violence against women is widespread in developing countries, with 36 percent of people believing it is justified in certain situations.


Women experience violence in many ways, from physical abuse to sexual assault and from financial abuse to sexual harassment or trafficking. Whatever form it takes, violence against women can have serious long-term physical and emotional effects.

In a new study by the University of Bristol, scientists gathered the data from Demographic and Health Surveys conducted between 2005-2017. They analyzed data from 1.17 million men and women in 49 low- and middle-income countries.

Surveys measured whether people thought a husband or partner was justified in beating his wife or partner is she goes out without telling him, argues with him, neglects the children, suspects her of being unfaithful, refuses to have sex, or burns the food.

On average, 36 percent of people thought it was justified in at least one of these situations. Attitudes towards domestic violence varied significantly across the 49 countries with only three percent of people justifying it in the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean, compared to 83 percent in Timor-Leste, South East Asia.

The data suggest that the societal acceptance of domestic violence was higher in South Asia with nearly half the population (47 percent) justifying it and in Sub-Saharan Africa (38 percent), compared with Latin America and the Caribbean (12 percent), Europe and Central Asia (29 percent).

Almost societal acceptance of domestic violence was reported high in South Asia with 47 %. On the other hand, 38% in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean (12 percent), Europe and Central Asia (29 percent). In most of the countries, women were more likely to justify the behavior than men.

The survey also suggests that societal acceptance of domestic violence among men was lower in countries with more democratic regimes. People in countries where women had more economic rights were less likely to justify domestic violence.

Meanwhile, increasing women’s economic rights can serve to challenge existing social norms around gender roles and the expectations of women and men.

Dr. LynnMarie Sardinha, an ESRC Research Fellow in Domestic Violence and Health at the University of Bristol, led the research. She said: “This is the first study of its kind and the insights it gives us into people’s attitudes towards domestic violence in the Global South and the influence of country-level factors and environment are invaluable if we’re to tackle this global problem.

“The widespread justification of domestic violence by women in highly patriarchal societies suggests women have internalized the idea that a husband who physically punishes his wife or verbally reprimands her has exercised a right that serves her interest. They perceive this behavior as legitimate disciplining, rather than an act of violence.

“Our findings highlight the need for tailored, geographically-differentiated and gender-specific interventions targeting the acceptance of domestic violence. There is a need for much greater focus on addressing the acceptance of domestic violence through targeted initiatives in societies affected by political conflict. Although domestic violence is exacerbated during and after armed conflict it’s prevention in these societies has received little attention.

“Interestingly, our findings suggest that the commonly-used measures of countries’ gender quality scores, for example, women’s labor force participation, and a number of seats held by women in national parliament did not significantly influence society’s acceptance of domestic violence. This highlights the need for international domestic violence prevention policies to consider that a sole focus on narrowly defined economic or political ’empowerment’ alone is not sufficient in challenging existing discriminatory gender norms.

“Given that, as estimated by the World Health Organisation, 30 percent of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, the prevention of domestic violence is both urgent and vital.

“Domestic violence has serious consequences for women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, negatively impacts on the well-being of children and families and has implications for wider society’s economic and social development.”

According to scientists, the survey could inform the development of effective prevention programmes, targeting the factors which lead to domestic violence being accepted by different societies.

These findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Future Research Leaders award, will help shape national and international strategies to prevent domestic violence.

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