Women Approve of Wife-Beating…Or Do They?

I’m sure most of us living in developed countries would agree that wife-beating isn’t exactly an acceptable practice. According to UNICEF, that may not be so true in the developing world — even among women.

Researchers asked women ages 15-49 whether or not men are justified in abusing their spouses for things like refusing to have sex, burning food, arguing, leaving without notice, or not taking care of children properly. Surprisingly (or at least initially for me), many said yes: Jordan topped the list with 90% and countries like Mali, Somalia, Morocco and Vietnam also ranked pretty high with affirmative responses in the 60%-89% range. (Check out the original chart here and The Economist’s version here.)

Where it gets really interesting is the breakdown based on local environment. In country after country, women in rural communities seem to be more accepting of wife-beating than those in urban settings. In some countries, the gap is minimal –31% vs 38% in Bangladesh or 75% vs 77% in Congo — but in others, it’s much more substantial. In Kenya, for example, there’s a 25 point difference (34% vs 59%) between acceptance levels in urban vs rural women. Many other countries show a similar spread.

The breakdown by wealth follows a similar trend. Let’s take Turkey, for example. Well known on the political world stage, a confluence of different cultures and religions, pretty cosmopolitan and therefore not so pro-wife-beating, right? Depends on your income. While only 7% of the richest women agree that wife-beating can be justified, a comparatively whopping 43% of women in the poorest category agree.

Why these disparities? Obviously education comes into play here, and with that comes women’s empowerment — or perhaps the lack of both. While urban women can more likely access education as a means to earn their own living, women in isolated rural areas are less likely to have access to high-quality education. Their ability to be economically independent diminishes. Consequently, they become more dependent on their families, which more likely than not are patriarchal.

If they’re not obeying fathers or older brothers, they’re likely bowing to the wishes of their husbands. Since marriages in many societies are more of an economic agreement or a way of sealing ties between families, it’s not guaranteed that a woman’s eventual husband will be someone who cares for her beyond her ability to fulfill the role of wife and support his dominance as husband. If she acts up, why not yell at her, hit her, or neglect her? After all, there’s not necessarily a strong emotional attachment there. If Mr. Husband dies, there’s usually a son or even son-in-law to step up and keep her in line.

Pretty straightforward. But even these women, do they really approve of wife-beating? Do they even really accept it?

If a woman born into such a society has seen little else but mothers, sisters, cousins, and aunts tolerate this system of abuse for generations, I’m not sure she would necessarily feel able to question it. Especially so if domestic abuse is backed by religious rhetoric and historical justification and she has little or no perspective of other ways of life. It’s likely to seem as plain a fact as childbirth or funerals –just another painful part of life. But do they approve of it? Do they like it? Probably not.

Take Rachna Shahi from rural Nepal. At 15 years old, she joined the Maoist People’s Liberation Army in part to fight for improving women’s rights, but today finds herself a victim of domestic abuse perpetrated by her husband and his family. Naresh Newar for Inter Press Service describes her story:

“Sometimes I am tempted to kill myself, as that would end all my sufferings. But who will take care of my children after I die?” she asks, wiping her tears and sobbing softly.

Her husband, Keshab Majhi, hits her with anything he finds handy such as an iron rod or a hammer and has even threatened to kill her with an axe.

Women like Rachna don’t necessarily report their abuse to the police, either because there is no accessible legal help in their remote rural areas or simply for fear of making the situation worse. Given the prevailing acceptance of wife-beating in their communities, reporting the abuse can lead to victim-blaming from neighbors, police demands for proof, or retaliation from their husband’s family. Their hesitancy doesn’t necessarily translate to approval, though. It seems that we should interpret their seeming acquiescence to wife-beating not as acceptance but as pure inability to single-handedly confront and conquer a long-established social beast.

So what can be done?

Obviously improving women’s access to education and economic opportunities that foster their independence are a must. But what about the men? I’m not sure men in these societies would take kindly to having the UN march in and tell them how to treat women. After all, they’re also entrenched in the belief systems that justify wife-beating — not to mention the fact that subjugating their wives puts them in a position of power.

As Shashi Tharoor says in her article for New Internationalist Magazine, ”At the risk of sounding frivolous: when you stop a man in traditional dress beating his wife, are you upholding her human rights or violating his?”

His forefathers say it’s ok — sometimes thousands of years worth of them. God’s okay with it, or at least the people writing and compiling His words do. How do we go about convincing them otherwise?

What do you think?

Related Stories:

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Domestic Abuse Fears Grow In Immigrant Communities

Do Women Have Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities?

Photo Credit: Andrea Guerra via Flickr


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

sad, but not at all surprising

Ann Khorite6 years ago

@Dan L, who said "I wonder how many women on care2 think that hitting a male spouse is OK? Plenty I'm sure."

What the heck makes you think that? You're basing this on nothing but what seems to be your own personal loathing for, and fear of, women. NO WOMAN has said ANYTHING in all these comments about thinking beating a male spouse is okay. You are reporting on your own fantasies of what Care2 women think.

Shame on you. Open your eyes. Scrub out your heart. With soap.

Dan L.
Dan L6 years ago

This is pretty sad, but not altogether surprising. I would not say those cultures can't be changed, but it will take time and education.

I wonder how many women on care2 think that hitting a male spouse is OK? Plenty I'm sure.

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W6 years ago

There are going to be cultures that simply can't be changed. After viewing how women are in Afghanistan by viewing the HBO special currently being run, I have come to the conclusion that we really need to LEAVE this country, pipeline be damned (You DO know that's why we're there, right? Follow the money! Nothing to do with 9/11)

Listening to those women in prison, most for "crimes" that wouldn't raise an eyebrow at a fancy cocktail party here, they do think differently. Only a couple mentioned love; most were very chatty about the $$$$! That seemed to be their priority. And their families.

But I would love to see what WOULD happen if suddenly their rights there were equal to men.
Would they evolve beyond the material? Would they speak in the spiritual? Interesting to say the least.

I'm just a tad more interested in helping the lady down the street with a black eye, sprained wrist and a 4-yr. old hanging on her skirt.

Laura C.
Laura C.6 years ago

no women or man has the right to beat period!!

Laura C.
Laura C.6 years ago

or are never educated to understand right from wrong. Children need to be raised to have a right to understand what they should or should not do and know the differences.

Laura C.
Laura C.6 years ago

abusiveness by both man or women against each other or children or animals! is wrong!! either way it goes its not acceptable in any way ,shape or form, and note I say ABUSIVENESS! there is way to much violence out there and our selves as humans should be able to comprehend that! but unfortunately we have to many ignorant ah out there that are never held accountable or responsible for there actions! They should be made to pay for there behaviors weather that be mental or physical situations. there should be consequences for violent behavior.

Arild Warud

This is not acceptable, period.

Tony C.
Tony C6 years ago

A class in RESPECT AND RESPONSIBILITY should be taught from Grade one to graduation. Children should be taught that anything is permissible as long as it does not hurt themselves or anyone else. If children are taught at a very early age that every child has their own strengths and weaknesses and that they should use their strengths to help others not to tease or bully them.
It should not matter if a child comes from a FAMILY of a mother and father, 2 mothers or 2 fathers or a single mother or father as long as they are LOVED.
Sex Education should be taught on LGBT, Contraceptives, Masturbation, Pregnancy and all forms of sex. Let us face it whether we like it or not children are curious and are having sex earlier. Children should be taught the JOYS and the CONSEQUENCES of having sex ( Pregnancy, STD, AIDS and others.) Cut out Geography or History early on then put it back in. Geometry and Algebra can be learned in college if needed. I believe this is a solution. Stopping the damage before it starts so that Bullying, Sexual Assault, and many others will be greatly diminished if not eradicated. It is my belief that when children graduate with these principles where they are taught RESPECT for themselves and others and to take RESPONSIBILITY for their actions. If children grow up with these values, I believe business and government would benefit greatly. Within a few generations this world would be a much better place to live in.

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G6 years ago

These women are uneducated and whould think differently if they were.Wife beating or any spousal beating is never ok..Any man lifting a finger against me or my brood, would be a dead man.