What are the macro-level predicators of violence against women?

Bethan Cansfield | Jul 09, 2015

Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic that violates women’s and girls’ fundamental human rights. Intimate partner violence is the most common form of abuse, with one in three women experiencing sexual or physical violence from a male partner. The harmful effects of violence against women and girls on health have been well documented and include increased maternal morbidity and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Yet little is known about the factors that drive the geographical distribution of partner violence or how macro-level factors (i.e. lack of economic rights for women, discriminatory family law, emphasis on women’s purity and women’s access to formal work) might combine with individual-level factors to affect women’s risk of intimate partner violence (i.e. childhood violence and attitudes that tolerate intimate partner violence).

We discuss the findings of a study by Dr Lori Heise and Andreas Kotsadam which was recently published in The Lancet Global Health. The study has two goals: to test to what degree macro-level factors related to women’s status, gender inequalities and norms of male authority and control are associated with population levels of partner violence and to explore whether these factors interact with individual-level variables.

Some of the findings include:

  • Living in a country that discriminates against women in access to land and other property remains a strong driver of intimate partner violence, even in the presence of a range of individual factors.
  • Evidence suggests that education is more protective (from violence) in countries or regions where justification of intimate partner violence is greater.
  • Individual acceptance of violence is much more strongly associated with intimate partner violence in areas where partner violence is highly normative (i.e. shared acceptance) than where it is not. This suggests an interaction between norms condoning violence and individual attitudes.
  • Working for cash increased a woman’s risk of partner violence substantially more in settings where few women work than in settings where many women work.
  • Socioeconomic development is unlikely to be causally related to prevalence of intimate partner violence.

It is clear that gender-related factors at the country and regional level are useful in predicting the population prevalence of current partner violence, including factors relating to women’s status. The study found that norms related to male authority over women’s behaviour, norms justifying intimate partner violence and to discriminatory land/ownership laws are especially predictive of the geographical distribution of partner violence.  Gender-related discrimination in family law, including differential rights to child custody, inheritance of land and money, and marriage and divorce, also predict levels of partner violence across settings.

The study concludes by providing recommendations for future programming on violence against women and girls including:

  • Greater emphasis is needed on shifting norms that condone intimate partner violence and the perceived right of men to control women.
  • Exploring removing barriers to women’s access to land and property as a potential strategy for reducing intimate partner violence.
  • Recognising and addressing that factors have differential effects at the macro, community, and individual level and that strong cross-level effects exist.
  • Ensuring economic empowerment efforts recognise and mitigate risk that violence against women may increase.

If you have found the findings from the study interesting, we highly recommend you read the study which can be found here.

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