Views from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Why do rates of partner violence vary between locations?

Intimate partner violence (physical or sexual harm by a current or former partner or spouse) affects nearly one in three women worldwide within their lifetime, but this can vary hugely between countries and even neighbourhoods. New research from the School and the University of Oslo has revealed underlying gender factors, which may help to explain this diverse geographical distribution and advise future prevention measures.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, was led by Dr Lori Heise, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Gender Violence and Health Centre at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Dr. Andreas Kotsadam of the University of Norway. It compiled data from surveys from almost half a million women in 44 countries across the world from 2000 – 2013. While many studies have examined factors that affect individual women’s risk of experiencing partner violence, this research explored the impact that larger societal-level factors such as women’s status, gender inequality, and gender-related norms, have on levels of partner violence in different settings and on individual women’s risk.

For the first time, the study empirically demonstrates the important role of gender-related drivers of intimate partner violence, with many interactions between these factors. For example, the authors highlight the finding that a girl’s education is more strongly associated with reduced risk of partner violence in countries where wife abuse is normative than where it is not.

Heise and colleagues hope that the findings will advise future policy, helping governments to prevent intimate partner violence in low-to-middle-income countries. Priorities could include shifting social norms such as perceived male authority over women’s behaviour, and empowering women by increasing access to employment and removing barriers to property rights.

The study was funded by What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls—a research and innovation project funded by UK Aid.

Image: anti-violence march in Uganda Credit: STRIVE

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