Socioeconomic Factors and Processes Associated with Domestic Violence in Rural Bangladesh

Article excerpt

CONTEXT: Although the pervasiveness of domestic violence against women in Bangladesh is well documented, specific risk factors, particularly those that can be affected by policies and programs, are not well understood.

METHODS: In 2001-2002, surveys, in-depth interviews and small group discussions were conducted with married women from six Bangladeshi villages to examine the types and severity of domestic violence, and to explore the pathways through which women's social and economic circumstances may influence their vulnerability to violence in marriage. Women's odds of experiencing domestic violence in the past year were assessed by logistic regression analysis.

RESULTS: Of about 1,200 women surveyed, 67% had ever experienced domestic violence, and 35% had done so in the past year. According to the qualitative findings, participants expected women with more education and income to be less vulnerable to domestic violence; they also believed (or hoped) that having a dowry or a registered marriage could strengthen a women's position in her marriage. Yet, of these potential factors, only education was associated with significantly reduced odds of violence; meanwhile, the odds were increased for women who had a dowry agreement or had personal earnings that contributed more than nominally to the marital household. Women strongly supported educating their daughters, but pressures remain to marry them early, in part to avoid high dowry costs.

CONCLUSIONS: In rural Bangladesh, women's social and economic circumstances may influence their risk of domestic violence in complex and contradictory ways. Findings also suggest a disconnect between women's emerging expectations and their current realities.

International Family Planning Perspectives, 2004, 30(4):190-199


Intimate partner violence is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence worldwide. (1) Domestic violence has been directly linked to numerous kinds of immediate and long-term physical and psychological injury to women. (2) Such violence also may contribute to unwanted pregnancies and may increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections among victims by compromising their ability to dictate the terms of their sexual relationships. (3) Moreover, domestic violence is a common problem during pregnancy (4) and has been associated with increased risks of miscarriage, preterm labor, fetal distress and low birth weight. (5) In light of mounting evidence of its varied and deleterious immediate and secondary effects, domestic violence is increasingly being recognized not only as an issue of human rights but also as a serious public health concern. (6)

Numerous studies have identified possible determinants, or "triggers," of intimate partner violence, many of which are salient across diverse cultural and social contexts. Theories to explain intimate partner violence remain relatively limited, however. This lack of a theoretical perspective may limit efforts to better understand intimate partner violence and to respond to it effectively, (7) particularly at the level of primary prevention.

Heise has proposed an ecological framework suggesting that intimate partner violence arises from an interplay among personal, situational and sociocultural factors. (8) This framework draws on the cross-cultural literature to identify potential specific factors associated with abuse at each level of the social ecology. (9) However, more empirical information and theory are needed regarding the relative importance of these various factors, (10) how they are interrelated and how they may interact with one another to influence women's risk of violence.

We report findings on the prevalence, nature and potential determinants of domestic violence--that is, violence perpetrated against a woman by her husband--among married women in six Bangladeshi villages. We explore some of the complex processes underpinning domestic violence in this context by looking at relationships and interactions among variables and by drawing on both quantitative analyses and qualitative data. …