Numerous factors affect the likelihood that Bangladeshi women will be physically abused by their husband.1 In a population-based survey of urban and rural women of reproductive age, the odds of abuse were elevated in both settings among women whose marriage involved a dowry or whose husband had seen his father abuse his mother. In contrast, the odds were reduced among women who had better communication with their husband and those whose husband had a relatively high level of schooling. In the urban setting only, women aged 15–19, those who belonged to a savings or credit group and those who had seen their father abuse their mother had elevated odds of abuse. In the rural setting only, women who earned income were more likely to be abused than those who did not.
Data for the study were derived from a survey conducted in 2001 among women aged 15–49 years residing in one large city and one rural area of Bangladesh. The women were asked whether they had experienced specific types of physical abuse by their husband. In addition, they were questioned about social and demographic characteristics, their husband's schooling, dowry and living arrangements, domestic violence in their own and in their husband's family, personal income and participation in a savings or credit group, spousal communication and perceived gender roles. An adult household member was questioned about household income and concern about the local level of crime. Two community-level factors—the community's attitude toward gender roles and concern about the level of crime—were determined by aggregating individuals' responses.
Analyses were based on 1,373 urban women and 1,329 rural women who had ever been married. Greater proportions of rural women than of their urban counterparts had marriages involving dowries or other demands (53% vs. 14%), lived with their in-laws (37% vs. 25%), belonged to a savings or credit group (30% vs. 13%) and had seen their father abuse their mother (17% vs. 13%). A larger proportion of urban women said that their husband had seen his father abuse his mother (15% vs. 10%). Most women in both settings (86%) said they might rely on their natal family for support in a crisis. Husbands of urban women generally had more education than their rural counterparts. On average, the level of communication of couples was slightly better in the urban group (3.1 vs. 3.0 on a scale of 0–4). With respect to community factors, attitudes toward gender roles were more conventional in the rural group than in the urban one (3.9 vs. 3.3 on a scale of 0–5), while a larger proportion of urban residents worried about crime in their community (15% vs. 8%). Overall, the annual income level was considerably lower for rural households.
Some 19% of urban women and 16% of rural women reported being physically abused by their husband in the past 12 months. A multilevel analysis identified certain factors as being associated with abuse in both urban and rural settings. Women whose marriage involved a dowry or other demands had higher odds of being abused than did women whose marriage involved no financial demands (odds ratios, 1.6 and 2.1 among urban and rural women, respectively). Women whose husband had witnessed his father abusing his mother were more likely than other women to be harmed (2.9 and 1.9). In contrast, the higher the level of communication between a woman and her spouse, the lower her odds of experiencing physical violence (0.8 for each additional level in both settings). Urban women whose husband had six or more years of education and rural women whose husband had 11 or more years of education were less likely to be abused than women whose husband had no education (0.5 and 0.4).
In the urban setting only, women aged 20–24 or aged 30 or older had lower odds of being abused by their husband than did their counterparts aged 15–19 (odds ratios, 0.4 and 0.2, respectively), whereas women were more likely to be harmed if they participated in a savings or credit group (1.8) or if they had witnessed their father abusing their mother (2.0). In the rural setting only, women who earned income had higher odds than nonearners of being abused (1.7). The other factors studied—living with in-laws, household income, religion, ability to seek support from natal families, and the community's attitude toward gender roles and concern about crime—were not associated with abuse in either setting.
The findings, the researchers contend, can be used to tailor interventions to reduce domestic violence against women in Bangladesh. They recommend strategies such as promoting the education of men, encouraging spousal communication and addressing the marital conflict that can arise when wives have personal income. However, the researchers note, altering the status quo will require a profound change in overall attitudes toward women, and interventions therefore "must be accompanied by mass education that includes a campaign for violence-free spousal relationships and gender equality."
1. Naved RT and Persson LA, Factors associated with spousal physical violence against women in Bangladesh, Studies in Family Planning, 2005, 36(4):289–300.