Women's Autonomy and Support for Wife Beating: Findings from a Population-Based Survey in Jordan

Article excerpt

The aim of this study is to examine attitudes among married women toward wife beating and to investigate the hypothesis that female individual empowerment is associated with such attitudes within a broader context of societal patriarchy in Jordan. The study uses data from a cross-sectional survey of a representative sample of married women (n = 5,390) conducted in 2002. Associations between acceptance of wife beating and several women's empowerment variables, including decision-making power, as well as other risk factors were assessed, using odds ratios from binary logistic regression models. The key finding is that the vast majority (87.5%) of Jordanian women believe that wife beating is justified in at least one hypothetical scenario, and justification is negatively associated with empowerment variables and some demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic factors.

Keywords : violence against women ; domestic violence ; empowerment ; patriarchy ; attitudes ; Jordan

Violence against women remains a key global public health problem associated with poor physical, sexual, and mental health outcomes for victims, and has potential negative lifelong and intergenerational consequences ( Coker, 2007 ; Sharps, Laughon, & Giangrande, 2007 ; Wathen & MacMillan, 2008 ). The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, recently noted: "Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. Most societies prohibit such violence; yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned" (United Nations, 2007). This acceptance and tolerance of gender-based violence, especially violence against women, is viewed by the United Nations as a key impediment to eliminating such behavior ( United Nations Population Fund [UNFPA], 2008 ).

Attitudes of women toward wife beating, if seen as markers of social norms toward violence against women ( Hindin, 2003 ), can offer important insight into the intergenerational perpetuation of this behavior and the structural barriers that may prevent victims from accessing adequate services and support. At the same time, recent cross-sectional studies suggested that women's acceptance of wife abuse is associated with their actual experience of being a victim, such that victims of violence are more likely to justify the behavior ( Gage & Hutchinson, 2006 ; Khawaja, Linos, & El-Roueiheb, 2008 ). In this sense, although the direction of causality remained unclear in these studies, understanding and changing social norms around violence against women may be considered a form of primary prevention worth investing in ( Coker, 2004 ).

Despite its global importance, there is a dearth of research on attitudes toward violence against women, especially from developing country settings. Most recent studies on attitudes and beliefs about domestic violence were conducted in the United States ( Bhuyan, Mell, Senturia, Sullivan, & Shiu-Thornton, 2005 ; Carlson & Worden, 2005 ; Nabors, Dietz, & Jasinski, 2006 ; Simon et al., 2001 ) and Europe ( Faramarzi, Esmailzadeh, & Mosavi, 2005 ; Gracia & Herrero, 2006 ), but there has been a growing body of evidence from developing countries, especially from Africa and the Middle East. A key study based on the demographic and health surveys (DHS) in seven sub-Saharan African countries indicated that the levels of acceptance of wife abuse are high among both men and women, yet women are consistently more likely to justify wife beating. In Ethiopia, Mali, and Uganda more than 3 in 4 women were likely to accept wife beating under certain scenarios ( Rani, Bonu, & Diop-Sidibe, 2004 ). Likewise, studies from South-East Asia indicated similarly high rates of acceptance. In Bangladesh, 84% of women surveyed in six villages accepted wife beating under certain circumstances, but the authors pointed to the distinction between accepting violence and condoning such behavior ( Schuler & Islam, 2008 ). …