STAFF BLOG: WHY SOME WOMEN JUSTIFY THE VIOLENCE THEY EXPERIENCE
BY NISHIGANDHA BOPPANA, RESEARCH ASSISTANT AT THE EQUALITY INSTITUTE
When thinking about gender inequality and gender violence, a false binary is sometimes created where men are the perpetrators who knowingly abuse their power while women are victims entirely averse to their subjugated position. In reality though, social norms—and yes, the patriarchy—exude an inescapable influence on all people. The binary ceases to exist, and regardless of gender or sex, all individuals internalise and normalise gender inequality to some extent. In some circumstances, men and women both accept and perpetuate all sorts of gender unequal practices, from a clearly defined gendered division of labour to violence against women.
The statistics recording the prevalence of violence against women are frankly alarming. One in three women worldwide experiences intimate partner violence. This means that, on average, one-third of all women will experience physical or sexual abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
While the rates of occurrence and particular types of violence vary according to region, it is now well known that intimate partner violence is by far the most pervasive form of violence against women globally. Population-based studies using the World Health Organization Multi-country study methodology have found that the rates of currently married women who ever experienced physical or sexual partner violence ranged from 17% in the Dominican Republic to 75% in Bangladesh. In the United Nations Multi-country Study on Men and Violence, 80% of men interviewed in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, reported ever committing physical or sexual violence against their partner.  In some places and in some communities, women are more likely to experience violence at the hands of their partners than not.
What may be more troubling than these raw statistics of prevalence, are the high rates of acceptance and normalisation of this violence. There is currently an abundance of research documenting women’s acceptance, along with their particular justifications, of intimate partner violence. Findings from a diverse range of countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe reveal that “wife-beating” is sometimes considered a husband’s right, and sometimes simply considered a normal part of marriage.  In recent studies, 41% of women in Turkey, 40% in Zimbabwe, and 46% in Cambodia reported intimate partner violence as justifiable under certain circumstances. 
Even more curious is that in some instances women accept intimate partner violence more readily than men. In the 2013 United Nations Multi-country study, individuals in Sri Lanka were surveyed across four sites and asked if they agreed with statement “there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten”—27.1% of men and 37.5% of women agreed.  While these findings might seem startling or unexpected at first glance, they quickly become easily understandable.
Social norms and structures that dictate gender inequality do not discriminate—they work to constrain and conform the behaviours, values, and attitudes of all individuals. Varying by region and particular cultural context, gender inequality is expressed through social norms with particular gender roles and expectations being taught to boys and girls from birth. Violence is a consequence of this inequality but also used to maintain it, and women are often blamed for their partner's violence because of their own failure to fulfil their gendered duties.
Some of the common reasons cited by women and men as justifiable reasons for intimate partner violence include:
- If the wife is disobedient
- If the wife argues with her husband
- If the wife is unfaithful
- If the wife goes out without telling her husband
- If the wife burns the food or fails to prepare it on time
- If the wife neglects the children
- If the wife refuses to have another child
- If the wife refuses to have sex with the husband
The high rates of women accepting intimate partner violence is a considerable problem in and of itself. However, this phenomenon further complicates the challenge of preventing and responding to intimate partner violence.
When women believe that the violence they are experiencing is justified, they may blame themselves for causing the situation. This not only increases experiences of shame and low self-worth for the victim, but also misdirects attention from the true causes of the violence. Women who justify intimate partner violence, and consider it their own fault, are further less likely to seek help, utilise services, or consider leaving the relationship.
Considering all, the evidence that some women themselves accept or justify intimate partner violence highlights the need to move beyond just trying to change men's attitudes. We need to work to fundamentally transform the social norms and structures that sustain gender inequality, violence against women, and promote victim blaming.
 Garcia-Moreno et al. 2013, p. 2
 Jesmin 2015, p. 984
 Fulu et al. 2013a, p. e187
 Mugoya et al. 2015, p. 2853
 Jesmin 2015, p. 984
 Fulu et al. 2013b, p. 5
Fulu, E., Jewkes, R., Roselli,T. & Garcia-Moreno, C. on behalf of the UN Multi-country Cross-sectional Study on Men and Violence research team (2013a) “Prevalence of and factors associated with male perpetration of intimate partner violence: findings from the United Nations Multi-country Cross-sectional Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific,” The Lancet Global Health, 1 (4): e187 - e20.
Fulu, E., Warner, X., Miedema, S., Jewkes, R., Roselli, T. & Lang, J. (2013b) Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?: quantitative findings from the United Nations Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok: UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV.
Garcia-Moreno, C., Pallitto, C., Devries, K., Stockl, H., Watts, C. & Abrahams, N. (2013) Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, Geneva: WHO, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and MRC.
Jesmin, S. (2015) “Married Women’s Justification of Intimate Partner Violence in Bangladesh: Examining Community Norm and Individual-Level Risk Factors”, Violence and Victims, 30 (6): 984-1003.
Kunnuji, M. (2015) “Experience of Domestic Violence and Acceptance of Intimate Partner Violence Among Out-of-School Adolescent Girls in Iwaya Community, Lagos State”, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30 (4): 543-564.
Mugoya, G., Witte, T. & Ernst, K. (2015) “Sociocultural and Victimization Factors That Impact Attitudes Toward Intimate Partner Violence Among Kenyan Women”, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30 (16): 2851-2871.
Vanuatu National Survey on Women’s Lives and Family Relationships, AusAid & NZAID, 2011.