Sad Stats on Women’s Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence Internationally


A new post on Akimbo displays this graph of women’s attitudes towards domestic violence. As you can see, in many cases a disturbingly high percentage of women say it is sometimes OK for their husbands to hit them.
The graph depicts figures as high as 90% (Jordan) of women aged 15-49 responding in the affirmative when asked if a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances.
The information in the graph comes from the UNICEF site Child Info: Monitoring the Situation of Women and Children and was collected between 2001 and 2007. There’s no info on attitudes of women in the U.S. in the study, but I’d be really interested to know if the U.S. figures were very different (based on the amount of “she deserved it” that went on during the whole Chris Brown/Rihanna escapade, I somehow doubt it).
You can view a chart with more country info and sources here.

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Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • toaster42

    Where is the United States on this list? Or England? Or Canada?
    I feel that women in the states can justify their abuse more under the guise of the “liberated West”.
    And violence and abuse is a favorite tool of capitalism in our home sweet home..

  • Lori

    I share your cynicism towards capitalism and the “liberated West”, toaster42, but don’t want it to distract from the point of my post. The chart indeed offers information mostly about women in so-called developing countries, but as I mention in the OP, I doubt the US figures are much different. I just think the information is a good reminder of where this issue stands in the eyes of women in other parts of the world, which to me is an indication of how much more work needs to be done. Thanks for reading.

  • aleks

    Namibia and S.A. would have catastrophically high percentiles too.

  • Keliz

    This makes me so sad. I am leaving to study abroad in Jordan in less than two weeks.

  • Jake N.

    Namibia’s rate is 35.2% (source), so I don’t know from where you’re getting that view. Surely that’s higher than it should be, but it’s not good to make assumptions on this issue based off of whatever stereotypes you may already have. Saudi Arabia isn’t on the list.
    The five highest are:
    Jordan (90%)
    Guinea (85.6%)
    Zambia (85.4%)
    Sierra Leone (85%)
    Lao PDR (81.2)

  • BackOfBusEleven

    If there was data from the United States, I think the percentage would be quite low (less than 10%), only because “no” is the “right” answer. People tend to give the “right” answer in these surveys, even if they don’t feel that way.
    Geography doesn’t seem to be a huge factor in these numbers. In the former Soviet countries, there’s a range of 5% (Ukraine) to 74.4% (Tajikistan). There’s a tendency to lump a group of countries together (former Soviet Union, Latin America, Africa, etc.), but there might be more that’s different than we may think.

  • aleks

    35% is more than one in three. If you don’t consider that catastrophic, I guess Namibia’s rate isn’t catastrophic in your eyes. BTW There’s a a rather famous country called South Africa adjacent to Namibia. I don’t know why you’d assume I meant Saudi Arabia which has no connection to Namibia that I can think of. Assumptions, stereotypes, etc.

  • aleks

    Right. Latin America is in some ways (and in some ways isn’t) a cohesive cultural entity. Africa and the former Soviet Republics are not.

  • allegra

    Wow. I’m surprised at this vast range. They’re really all over the board (though of course, sadly, the one number missing among all of them is zero). And, as BackOf says, there’re huge differences even within geographical/cultural regions. (Though I suppose the point is, even places next to each other geographically have unique cultures.)
    I wonder what other factors would contribute to these differences. I’m sure there’s more to it than that “some women just know that ‘no’ is the ‘right’ answer.”

  • cato

    I find this graph difficult to interpret. For one, the countries seem randomly thrown together.
    Moreover, the info is out of context – it would be a difference if, say, 80 percent of all women agree to the statement, but only 10 percent of women are subject to domestic violence, or the other way round.
    Finally, did they ask all women, or women who are actually abused by their husbands? I have briefly worked with an Indian data set on domestic violence. The questionnaire asked first if a woman has ever been hit by someone, and then administered the rest of the survey only if she says yes. First, not everyone who’s abused says so, and the answers might be very different for those two groups, but second, it shrinks the data set considerably. In the survey I am talking about, the NFHS, I believe the final sample size was around 800, out of some 100000 women surveyed (from the top of my head). It’s risky then to take these percentages at face value, and I’m not sure which way the bias would go, i.e. if the numbers over- or underestimate the true percentages.
    Btw I have to say I’m puzzling a bit over your statement that the numbers in the US will probably not be “very different”, for percentages between 6 and 90 percent. No matter who is in the base population of the survey (all women/battered women/only certain ages/only married?), I would not expect over 15 percent in the US, and even that seems high.

  • aleks

    Survey quality probably varies dramatically between countries too.

  • cato

    Ok, so now I looked it up. The graph above actually uses the last round of the NFHS for India (I worked with an earlier one, and the questions and methods changed quite a lot… in my defense). I only have the data for one state, Karnataka, but there all women surveyed were asked (6000 in all), regardless if they were beaten or not.

  • Jake N.

    South Africa’s weirdly not on the list either. I’ve only ever heard that abbreviation used for Saudi Arabia, so I apologize for that.
    However, I still think that calling out Namibia’s rate when it’s in the lower half of the data is kind of weird. It’s obviously a problem, like I said, but there are almost 40 countries on that list alone that have higher rates.
    Something interesting that one of my friends asked when I posted this on my Facebook was how these rates would correlate to the same question asked to men (about domestic violence toward women). She assumed that the rates would generally be higher, but wasn’t sure how the ranking would go.
    What do you think? And would that a positive correlation possibly have a link to why some women think that way?

  • aleks

    I’ve lived and taught in Namibia and have some familiarity with cultural attitudes among the largest tribe. As one example, I taught at the best public school in the country, and my bold, brilliant, educated, ambitious 9th grade girls tried to convince me that Rihana had made her boyfriend beat her up. I’ve likewise had some exposure to South African attitudes on domestic violence. The cultures of both countries are saturated with violence, and it’s acted out against everyone, especially women.
    I had nothing to say about any of the countries on that list, because I have no more knowledge about them than anyone else. If they’re truly worse than Namibia and S. Africa I can’t imagine what life must be like for women. And I’ve been called weird all my life, and much worse things on Feministing, so I can live with that adjective.

  • aleks

    I see that I said percentiles when I meant percentages though, I’ll own that mistake.

  • Audentia

    I wonder what percentage of people (women and/or men) think it is okay for wives to hit their husbands.

  • everybodyever

    Definitely. In interpreting that image, I kept trying to do so: Of the nations shown on the pie chart, former Soviet-bloc entities and predominantly Catholic countries had the lowest percentages, while post-colonial countries with severe internal ethnic strife (Serbia notwithstanding), rock-bottom GDPs and recent warfare have woefully high rates. I don’t know about Jordan… The full list certainly deflates those assumptions — and, in a helpful and humbling (for me as a relatively well-protected American, anyway) really troubles any kneejerk explanations I might make.

  • Laura

    This. Regardless of intent, it’s important to acknowledge that graphs and data like this, by leaving out information on Western countries, make it seem like domestic violence is only something that “primitive” (aka, brown) people do. It’s a diminishing and racist implication.
    I’m sure there are other graphs, or charts or whatever, on the internet that also discuss the percentage of American, Canadian and European women who believe it’s okay for their husbands to hit them. Why not include those as well? Why ONLY include information on less “developed” countries?

  • Brian

    This is a surprisingly difficult number to find.
    Among grade 11 and 12 students in the United Kingdom, violence towards men in relationships is seen as more acceptable than violence towards women (unsurprising, yes), though in all cases, men see violence as more acceptable than women. For instance, 22% of the boys surveyed, and 16% of the girls, felt it was okay for a man to strike a woman for infidelity, while 42% of both the boys and girls thought it was okay for a woman to strike a man for infidelity. More interesting may be something like 19% of boys and 13% of girls think that a husband who strikes his wife deserves a second chance, while 40% of boys and 26% of girls think that a wife who strikes her husband deserves a second chance.
    Anyways, it’s here: http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/cib-attitudes-of-young-people-towards-domestic-violence_-2007-report-3.pdf

  • aleks

    I think violence by women against men is seen as less serious violence because men are generally physically stronger. I said something idiotic to a woman a few weeks ago and if she had slapped me I would have felt it was justified, whereas under no circumstances would my hitting her in any way have been justified.

  • qtiger

    Perhaps. I am of the opinion, however, that it’s more about the person’s ability to get out of the abusive situation/relationship. Women are arguably less able to remove themselves from abusive relationships for financial, emotional, and safety reasons. That would also explain why same-sex domestic violence seems to be largely overlooked; one partner is not seen as having more ‘power’ (can’t think of a good word to go here) or ability to force the other to remain in the relationship/situation.
    For me, it has very little to do with potential or actual harm and everything to do with plain and simple respect for your partner. I find domestic violence equally distasteful regardless of gender.

  • aleks

    I’m not saying she should have hit me. But I’d have understood.