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Map: Why women in some countries still say domestic violence is okay

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

A new study in the American Sociological Review, by Rachael S. Pierotti of the University of Michigan, looks at the attitudes of women in 26 different countries toward intimate partner violence. The findings, which could be potentially quite important for curbing domestic violence, suggest that global cultural attitudes increasingly reject it, and that women who are exposed to these ideas are more likely to adopt them.

The surveys, conducted over several years, asked women, "Sometimes a husband is annoyed or angered by things which his wife does. In your opinion, is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife in the following situations?”

I've mapped out the results above. In blue countries, a majority of women answered "no," and in red countries, a majority answered "yes." The highest proportion who said they rejected domestic violence was in the Dominican Republic, where 95.54 percent of women said no to the survey question. In Ethiopia, which scored lowest, only 17.84 percent of women answered no.

The survey also presented women with five different scenarios for why a husband might hit his wife: "(1) if she goes out without telling him, (2) if she neglects the children, (3) if she argues with him, (4) if she refuses to have sex with him, and (5) if she burns the food."

The surveys found growing female rejection of domestic violence in 23 of the 26 countries, suggesting a global trend. It found that "women with greater access to global cultural scripts through urban living, education, or access to media were more likely to reject intimate partner violence." The phrase "cultural scripts" is academic jargon for global attitudes; in this case, the idea that domestic violence is unacceptable.

Here's a snip from the paper:

In 22 countries, women who lived in urban areas had higher odds of rejecting intimate partner violence, controlling for all other factors. ... Women who had attended at least some secondary school had much higher odds of rejecting intimate part- ner violence in all but four countries. The effect of higher education is even larger and is significant in each country. Even controlling for urban living and education, media access is still associated with higher odds of rejecting intimate partner violence in 14 countries. Overall, each of these mechanisms for diffusion of global norms has a substantial, independent effect on the odds of rejecting intimate partner violence.

Pierotti argues that the rejection of domestic violence is part of a cultural shift, rather than the result of urbanization or rising incomes on their own. "Results are consistent with the influence of cultural diffusion, not structural socioeconomic or demographic changes," she writes.

The data also cut against the common Western perception that women are treated the worst in the Muslim world: just look at the differences in results between Jordan, Turkey and Egypt. As I've written before, metrics of gender equality and the treatment of women often suggest that women are, on average, worse off in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa than in the Middle East, contrary to popular Western perceptions.

Still, it's important to note that Pierotti finds women increasingly rejecting domestic violence in all parts of the world, and particularly in some of the lowest-scoring countries, suggesting that domestic violence can't be attributed to simple cultural factors, whether religion or geographic location.

Here's a chart of the survey results. "Wave one" refers to the first round of surveys in the early- and mid-2000s. The "wave two" surveys were all conducted a few years later. I've added these colors to the chart to make it a little easier to read: