Jordanian Social Norms and the Risk of Intimate Partner Violence and Limited Reproductive Agency

By McCleary-Sills, Jennifer | Journal of International Women's Studies, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Jordanian Social Norms and the Risk of Intimate Partner Violence and Limited Reproductive Agency


McCleary-Sills, Jennifer, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a pervasive global problem that violates the rights of millions of women each year and has been linked with a multitude of adverse physical, mental, and reproductive health outcomes. In Jordan, socio-cultural constructs of masculinity and female sexuality legitimize control exerted on and violence perpetrated against women. These include the gendered social norms that keep women in disempowered positions and limit their ability make fundamental reproductive decisions such as whether and when to become pregnant. This paper explores some of the mechanisms by which low levels of gender equity increase Jordanian women's risk of violence and affect their exercise of reproductive agency.

Grounded in an empowerment framework and informed by a social ecological model, this research tested the hypothesis that experiencing IPV increases women's risk of compromised reproductive agency, as evidenced by: increased odds of unintended pregnancy and unmet need for family planning (FP). These analyses revealed important social influences at the individual, interpersonal, and community levels that place women at increased risk for experiencing IPV. They also revealed that exposure to IPV is an independent risk factor for limited reproductive agency, with women who had experienced violence having a 39% increased risk of unintended pregnancy and 43% increased risk of unmet need for FP. The magnitude of these associations was even greater when community norms regarding IPV and women's autonomy were considered in the model, showing increased risk of 46% and 69%, respectively.

These analyses reveal that 1PV is significant barrier to the achievement of gender equity in Jordan, as it perpetuates gendered imbalances in power and also imposes great social and health costs on women. This paper discusses the implications of these analyses for designing research and programming initiatives to promote lasting change in support of gender equity and empowerment for Jordanian women.

Key words: Reproductive planning, violence, and women's empowerment

Introduction and Background

In Jordan, socio-cultural constructs of masculinity, gender norms, and female sexuality legitimize control exerted on and violence perpetrated against women. (1,2) For many Jordanians, violence within a family is considered a private matter, and is rarely discussed beyond the household due to shame and fear of social disclosure. (3) These values influence interpersonal relationships at the family and community levels, and serve to perpetuate the unequal status of women in Jordanian society. (4) While previous studies have attempted to capture the prevalence of violence perpetrated against Jordanian women by their husbands, the first population-based estimates were provided by the 2007 Jordan Population and Family Health Survey (JPFHS). (5-7) In this nationally representative sample of Jordanian women, nearly one quarter (23%) of respondents had ever experienced physical or sexual violence by their husbands, and 15% reported such violence in the year preceding the survey.

A substantial body of research in other regions has provided strong evidence of the impact that exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) can have on women's ability to exercise her reproductive agency, including through direct and deliberate interference by her partner on her attempts to avoid or delay pregnancy. (8-13) While relatively little published research has examined the connection between reproductive decision-making and IPV in Jordan, one recent study of 353 Jordanian women found that those who reported ever physical abuse by their husbands had more than twice the risk of experiencing interference with their attempts to prevent pregnancy. (11) In addition to overt interference by partners with women's desired contraceptive use, a number of sociodemographic and interpersonal variables inhibit women's achievement of their reproductive intentions, including level of education, socioeconomic status, familial and social norms, and access to information. …

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