What happens at the big end of town matters

A précis of Lori Heise and Andreas Kotsadam’s article in The Lancet Global Health: Cross-national and multilevel correlates of partner violence: an analysis of data from population-based survey

Women’s status and gender inequality help to predict where violence against women and girls is more likely to happen, and influences the level of risk posed to individual women, a study released last week in The Lancet Global Health has shown.

‘Cross-national and multilevel correlates of partner violence: an analysis of data from population-based survey,’ is the first study of its kind, to compare macro-level factors related to gender, across 44 countries, to see what effect they have on the prevalence and distribution of VAWG, and how they influence the success of programmes that work at a more targeted level with individuals.

The study found that:

What happens on the big-scale is important; we can’t just focus on working with individuals and communities.

Laws that enshrine equal access to property and inheritance, female participation in the workforce and overall social norms related to wife beating and male authority, all have a major impact. So much so that these could even be used to predict levels of partner violence in a country.

It seems self-evident, but, what is significant, is that this is the first time there is irrefutable, cross-country evidence to prove just how important large-scale policies to address gender inequality are as part of a raft of strategies to stop violence against women and girls.

Previous research on partner violence has largely ignored macro-level factors, and has been dominated by research on the role of personality, relationship dysfunction and childhood trauma as major risk factors. This new evidence shows that, while all of that is important, so too is establishing the right political and social framework to enable gender equality.

The most important factors to address at the macro-level are ownership laws, and social norms that make it acceptable for men to exert control over women.

The study found that, rates of partner violence were up to 14.6 per cent higher, in places where all people agreed that it was justifiable or okay for a husband to beat his wife, compared to areas where no-one agreed to the statement.

Similarly, ownership laws that privilege men were also strongly associated with higher levels of violence. As were discrimination in family law, including rights to child custody, or the ability to inherit land or money.

Macro-level factors affect the level of risk posed to individual women, and need to be accounted for in programme and policy design.

The research makes it clear that macro-level factors do shape the level of risk posed to individual women. For example, in countries where there were low levels of female participation in the workforce, women who did earn cash were at a higher risk of experiencing violence. Similarly, in areas where wife abuse was normalized, providing girls with education led to a wider reduction margin in rates of violence, compared to areas where abuse was seen as unacceptable.

This shows that, what happens at the big-scale really does have a flow-down affect on the lives of individual women. It also shows that strategies to address violence against women operate in different ways according to the macro-environment. For example, a microfinance or job-creation programme, may in fact increase the risk posed to women in the short-term, if they are in an area where few women work. As such, violence prevention programmes need to anticipate these risks, and incorporate safety planning and strategies to mitigate.

Please follow the link to read Lori’s article in The Lancet Global Health here: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X%2815%2900013-3/abstract