Tag: intimate partner violence

Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence: Research Shared at the 2022 FROGEE Conference

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This brief summarizes the research papers presented at the 2022 FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”, which took place on May 11, 2022. It was organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the FREE Network. Two additional briefs related to the conference are published on the FREE policy briefs website – a brief on gender-based violence in conflict based on the panel discussion, and another sharing preliminary results from the recent FROGEE survey.

While the concerns about domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) have been gaining prominence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were further exacerbated by the devastating events happening in Ukraine. Times of crisis or conflict makes the issue more severe, however, gender-based violence is sadly prevalent at normal times too, and a major portion of it is DV and IPV. Limiting violence towards women requires understanding the determinants of DV and IPV and the channels through which they take effect. With this in mind, the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the FREE Network invited researchers to present their work relating to the economic and social context of domestic violence. This brief provides an account of what was shared at the conference.

Prevention of Domestic Violence: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Three presented studies geared toward evaluating policies aimed to limit violence against women.

Dick Durevall shared his findings on IPV and national policy programs in Colombia, focusing on the laws and policies implemented based on the UN campaign “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” between 2010 and 2015. To evaluate the effect of these policies, he adopts a differences-in-differences design and compares provinces that had a gender policy before this renewed effort with those that did not. This builds on the idea that provinces that had an IPV policy strategy before UN recommendations were adopted are more efficient in implementing new such policies. It is found that self-reported physical violence falls from 20% to 16% between 2010 and 2015 in provinces that had IPV policies while this number remained at 18% in those that did not. While sexual violence decreased in both groups, provinces with IPV policies experienced a stronger reduction.

Accurate reporting is a key issue when it comes to IPV since it makes up the foundation for designing effective policy. Due to long-lasting and tiresome judicial procedures, threats, social barriers, or emotional costs, victims might choose not to report. Looking at the introduction of specialized IPV courts in Spain, Marta Martínez-Matute presented her paper on how institutions shape reporting. Bestowed with specialized staff, victim-oriented resources, and a swifter judicial process, these courts are specifically designed to deal with IPV cases. Martínez-Matute and co-author investigate if these resources make women more prone to report IPV by exploiting the sequential rollout of specialized courts. They use yearly court-level data on individual IPV cases between 2005 and 2018 in a staggered difference-in-differences framework with matched control districts. The results show that the introduction of an IPV court in a judicial district reduces the length of the judiciary process by 61% and increases the reported number of IPV cases by 22%. Ensuring that this increase is not fully driven by a rise in false reports, it is found that the share of dismissed IPV cases remains unchanged. Further, it is shown that the increase is driven by less severe IPV cases and not aggravated IPV offenses or homicides.

A distinctive feature of DV crimes is that there is a high degree of recidivism, with many women experiencing repeated violence from the same partner. However, little is known about how police should respond to such crimes to ensure safety to those victimized. From one perspective police arrests deter repeated DV crimes since they incapacitate perpetrators and allow police to investigate while offering safety to victims. However, some argue that this safety is merely temporary and that DV arrests might trigger offenders to retaliate against victims, leading to increased long-term DV. Against this reasoning, Victoria Endl-Geyer presented a study on the relationship between police arrests and DV dynamics in the UK. It uses highly granular administrative data on the population of DV incidents in the West Midlands which allows the researchers to observe the detailed information on the incidents’ timing and location as well as on police officers and their crime scene responses. It adopts an instrumental variables approach using the dispatch team’s previous propensity to arrest (measured as the weighted average arrest rate of officers in the team) as an instrument. The results provide evidence consistent with a deterrence effect. While regular OLS estimates show an insignificant impact, the IV results indicate that an on-scene arrest decreases repeat DV incidents by 25-26 percentage points. They find that the effect is the same when restricting the sample to incidents reported by a third party, supporting that this effect is not driven by a change in reporting behavior.

Factors of Domestic Violence and its Mechanisms

Other studies presented at the conference focused less on policy assessment and more on identifying the determinants of IPV and DV.

Losing or obtaining a job causes a shock in the intra-relationship dynamics and changes the economic power balance between spouses. Deniz Sanin presented her paper on the DV effect of women’s employment in the context of Rwanda. Following the government-initiated National Coffee Strategy in 2002, the number of coffee mills in Rwanda increased from 5 to 213 over the course of ten years. This natural experiment allows studying the effect of having a paid job as it captures the shift from unpaid labor on a family farm to paid work on a mill, keeping job-related skills constant. Using survey data on both DV and labor market outcomes along with administrative data on DV hospitalizations, the study adopts a staggered difference-in-differences strategy and compares women before and after mill opening as well as within and outside of the catchment area (a buffer zone surrounding the mill). The results show that upon mill opening, the probability of working for cash increases and that of self-reporting domestic violence in the past 12 months decreases by 26% (relative to the baseline of 0.35). During the harvest months, the only period of the year in which the mills operate, hospitals are significantly less likely to admit DV patients compared to the month before the harvest season, suggesting that the initial results are not driven by reporting bias. Looking at the mechanisms, she finds evidence supporting an increased bargaining power explanation – women in catchment areas who are exposed to mill opening are more likely to have a bigger say in household decisions such as larger household purchases and contraception usage. Increases in husbands’ earnings and decreased exposure are also ruled out as possible channels since a decline in DV is also found among spouses where the husband works in a different occupation with no change in earnings.

Rather than studying the impact of women’s employment status, Cristina Clerici shared a related paper that focuses on male unemployment. To investigate its effect on IPV, the study exploits the exogenous shock to employment caused by COVID-19 containment measures in Uganda. The authors collect individual-level data via phone surveys on the incidence of IPV among food vendors, including information on husbands’ sector of employment. To identify a causal DV effect of male employment exit, the authors distinguish between two groups of women with similar pre-lockdown experiences of abuse: those with spouses employed in sectors where operations were halted by COVID-19 lockdowns (construction workers, taxi drivers, etc.) and those with spouses who were unaffected (food vendors, farmers, etc.). The results show that male unemployment increases the probability of experiencing physical violence by 4.9 percentage points, corresponding to a 45% increase relative to the average likelihood. The effect cannot be explained by increased exposure (the man being more at home) – affected and unaffected women spend on average an equal number of nights in the market, which could be used as a coping mechanism. This suggests it is the change in unemployment status itself that drives the increase in DV.

While most of the literature on domestic abuse has documented that its drivers often come from changing life conditions of the victim or perpetrator, there is broad anecdotal evidence that exogenous events can lead to exacerbations in domestic violence as well. Ria Ivandic presented her paper that documents a causal link between major football games and domestic violence in England. The authors use a dataset on the universe of calls and crimes in the Greater Manchester area. The data provides a time series on the incidence of different types of domestic abuse with information on the timing, relationship to the accused, and individual characteristics of the victim and perpetrator, including whether the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. They adopt an event study approach focusing on the hours surrounding a game and document a substitution effect in that the two-hour duration of a football game is associated with a 5% decline in DV incidents. However, following the game, the initial decrease is offset as DV incidents start increasing and culminate after 10-12 hours, eventually leading to an aggregate positive effect which constitutes a 2.8% hourly increase on days when games are played.

The authors argue that alcohol consumption, rather than emotions, is the main mechanism through which domestic violence is affected by sporting events. Supporting this hypothesis, they first find that the outcome of the game or the associated element of surprise (measured using the ex-ante probability of winning a game through betting markets) does not affect the probability of DV occurring. Second, they show that the increase in DV following a game is solely driven by an increase in alcohol-related DV incidents, while those committed by non-alcoholized men remain constant. Further strengthening this finding, it is shown that for games scheduled early in the day, when perpetrators can start drinking sooner and continue throughout the day, they find a significant increase in DV incidents committed by alcoholized perpetrators while this is not the case for late-scheduled games.

The Role of Women’s Empowerment

In the literature on gender-based violence, there is a common disposition to think about women’s empowerment as a central element of DV mitigation. However, theories point in opposite directions making the effect of women’s economic empowerment rather unclear. On one end of the spectrum, there are bargaining theories indicating that an increase in women’s employment opportunities or income should have a negative effect on DV by creating outside options or increasing the bargaining power in a relationship. At the other end, there are backslash theories arguing that enhancing women’s financial empowerment may further exacerbate violence by undermining the role of the breadwinner, triggering male partners to retaliate with the use of violence in order to restore the power balance. Going in the same direction, theories of instrumental violence point towards that the male partner might also use violence to extract resources.

In her keynote lecture, Bilge Erten outlined the evidence relating to DV and women’s empowerment and discussed to what extent and in which contexts these theories are supported.

The evidence of a positive or negative effect of empowerment may depend on which aspect of it is studied. Education is seen as an important one because it has the potential to raise women’s self-awareness of IPV, increase the likelihood of matching with a well-educated partner (which is negatively correlated to abusive behavior), and improve labor market outcomes. Although evidence is scarce in this area, Erten shared her own findings on the causal effect of education reform on IPV in Turkey. In line with instrumental violence theories, it is found that, while women in cohorts affected by the reform performed better in the labor market, they experienced more psychological violence and financial control behavior, and there was no sign of an effect on DV attitudes, partner-match quality or marriage decisions.

What we know about women’s empowerment and DV is also different across countries. When it comes to the effect of employment, findings from developed countries are generally consistent with bargaining theory explanations while what is found in the developing world is more mixed. This is also the case for studies on unilateral divorce laws – while a negative effect on IPV has been documented in the United States, a positive effect of these laws is found in Mexico.

Assessing the literature on the income effect leads to a somewhat ambiguous verdict too. Although generally, most studies confirm that overall violence declines with women’s income, there is often heterogeneity in the effect. It has for instance been found that the sign of the income effect from cash transfers on DV changes from negative to positive as the size of the transfer increases.

Finally, Erten provided some important policy considerations. There is evidently a widespread backlash problem that can arise after a policy intervention of the types discussed above. Policymakers need to think more about monitoring and protecting victims from more violence when implementing such a policy. Further research assessing post-intervention is also needed to identify interventions that are the most effective in minimizing domestic violence. In particular, a change in broad social norms around gender roles should be a desirable outcome, to the effect that a new, improved status of women in society and in the household becomes more culturally acceptable and needs not lead to backlash. In the case of expressive violence (that is not a rational, calculated response but rather a compulsion in the heat of the moment), mental health interventions should also be considered.

Concluding Remarks

As highlighted by the 2022 FROGEE conference, domestic violence not only has been put in the spotlight following the pandemic or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but is widespread across the globe in regular conditions too. The mixed findings shared at the conference suggested that policies limiting gender-based violence should be designed with respect to the cultural and social setting where they are to be implemented as the heterogeneity is very high across contexts. Although research has come a long way, the conference stressed that there is much more to be done, in terms of not only knowledge but also the political will and commitment to seriously address the issue of gender-based violence.

The presentations held at the conference can be viewed at this link and a separate policy brief based on the panel discussion on gender-based violence in times of conflict can be found here.

List of Speakers

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Gender-Based Violence in Conflict

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The eruption of war exposes women to increased gender-based violence, in the immediate conflict area as well as in the countries where they seek refuge. Acknowledging the specific conflict-related risks that women face is important, in order to target interventions, especially considering that the actors that sit at peace negotiation tables are predominantly or exclusively men. In this policy brief, we discuss the implications of conflict for gender-based violence, with a special focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We also outline some policy interventions that might help mitigate the risks that women face, holding those responsible to account, and building a more gender-equal society from the reconstruction efforts. Our discussion draws from existing academic literature and inputs from the special panel session on conflict during the FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”.

Gender-Based Violence During Conflicts

During war, as in peacetime, women are exposed to different forms of violence, and to a different extent, as compared to men. In other words, there are gender-specific aspects of conflict-related violence, both in immediate conflict areas and in the places where affected populations might seek refuge.

One form of violence against women in conflict areas is sexual violence and rapes perpetrated by combatants. Scholars and policy analysts tend to portray this violence as a weapon of war (Eriksson and Stern, 2013), meaning that it is a way of humiliating and demoralizing the enemy as individuals and as communities. Differently put, the narrative that portrays sexual violence as, for instance, the consequence of unmet sexual needs among soldiers is increasingly less accepted. Sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed forces in conflict areas is tragically prevalent. While proper quantification of the phenomenon is hard for obvious reasons, it is estimated for example that at least 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and 50,000 during the war in Bosnia (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022).

Another form of gender-based violence in conflict is that women who are uprooted by war tend to confront a high risk of sexual violence during their journey away from home and in the places where they seek refuge. Vu et al. (2014) estimate, through meta-analysis, that approximately one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings experienced sexual violence. The study also highlights the need for more data to shed light on the characteristics of perpetrators. The presence of aid workers among them appears to persist through several humanitarian crises (Reis, 2021).

Further, women and children fleeing war areas are vulnerable to the risk of trafficking and exploitation for sexual or other work (as highlighted in the FROGEE conference panel). Traffickers and criminal organizations tend to exploit the combination of a mass movement of people in precarious economic situations and the decreased scrutiny generated by the humanitarian emergency.

Finally, war heightens the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) in conflict areas as well as among refugees and displaced individuals, by causing stress, trauma, economic hardship and increased substance abuse, all of which lead to deterioration in mental health and the quality of relationships (Conference panel). An actual or perceived sense of impunity can also undermine victims’ propensity to report IPV at such a time. A systematic review of the published literature on gender-based violence in conflict finds that estimated rates of IPV across most studies are much higher than the rates of rape and sexual violence perpetrated outside the home (Stark and Ager, 2011).

The consequences of conflict on IPV can be long-lasting. Evidence from post-genocide Rwanda shows that women who married after the conflict were more likely to be victims of spousal abuse; skewed sex ratios that reduced women’s bargaining power in the marriage market appear to be the relevant channel (La Mattina 2017). Another important factor is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans: a study of US military personnel shows that assignment to combat in the Global War on Terrorism is associated with higher incidence of domestic violence and lower relationship quality (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). The increased availability of small weapons can also lead to more frequent or more violent instances of domestic abuse (Conference panel).

The War in Ukraine

Reports from the US State Department and Amnesty international document episodes of sexual violence from armed conflict actors in Donetsk and Luhansk since the start of the conflict in 2014 (Amnesty International, 2020). Both Russian and Ukrainian military were involved, speaking to the tragedy that the population close to the “contact area” have witnessed since 2014.

At present, growing evidence is emerging that Ukrainians, especially but not exclusively women and girls, are victims of rape, gang-rape and forced nudity perpetrated by Russian military troops invading the country (United Nations). It is notoriously difficult to collect and verify data and facts on sexual violence during wartime, but these early accounts, and the experience from previous conflicts, call for a high level of scrutiny and readiness to help. Research also suggests some potential factors that aggravate the prevalence of sexual violence in conflict. Guarnieri and Tur-Prats (2020) show that armed actors who hold more gender-unequal norms are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, and that the incidence of sexual violence is highest when the parts in conflict hold gender norms that differ substantially (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022). Survey data show that the share of people who appear to hold gender-unequal norms in Russia remained high over the years, based on questions on the effectiveness of women and men as political or business leaders (Figures 1 and 2), or the desirability of women earning more than their husbands (not shown).

Figure 1. Men make better political leaders than women do, % agreement

Source: World Value Survey

Figure 2. Men make better business executives than women do, % agreement

Source: World Value Survey

Evidence on the evolution of norms in Ukraine is more mixed (see Figures 1 and 2). All in all, surveys of gender-role attitudes suggest that gender stereotypes persist in Russian society, but it is not obvious that the prevailing gender norms are starkly different between Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, attitudes toward IPV in the two countries might be evolving differently, at least among the respective elites, based on the fact that legislation on domestic violence recently changed in opposite direction in the two countries. Specifically, Russia decriminalized minor forms of domestic violence in early 2017. Conversely, Ukraine strengthened the legal response to domestic violence in early 2019, in particular making minor but systematic domestic violence criminally punishable, and extending criminal punishment beyond physical violence to include emotional and economic violence.

As a consequence of the war, almost 13 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, according to the United Nations. Almost all of them are women and children, since men and boys aged 18 to 60 are required to stay in Ukraine to defend the country. Women traveling alone with their children, especially when fleeing to foreign countries where they often have no connections, are clearly at risk of assault and exploitation. Such risk is heightened by the exceptional speed of the refugee influx, whereby an impromptu response from the host countries is by necessity reliant on individual independent participation. Private hosts have spontaneously been opening their homes to accommodate for days or even weeks Ukrainians fleeing the war. Proper vetting of these offers is made difficult by the sheer number of people who are being welcomed in bordering countries, for instance Poland, as well as by the exceptional response from private individuals. Within a little more than a month from the start of this crisis there had already been a few episodes of sexual violence against Ukrainian refugees in their host countries (specifically in Poland and Germany).

While the current death toll in the war in Ukraine is unlikely to lead to dramatically skewed sex-ratios, this aspect might become more relevant as events evolve, in light also of the fact that nearly the universe of those who fled the country so far consists of women and children.

Finally, in the post-conflict period, the presence of small weapons, which have been made available to civilians to defend the country, is an additional risk factor for IPV (Conference panel).

What Can Be Done?

Academics, international organizations, activists and female politicians from Ukraine have made specific requests to improve the system of protection and accountability in the face of sexual violence against women living in or fleeing from conflict zones. These suggestions include ensuring that the system of transitional justice that will govern the post-conflict period establishes proper investigation and punishment of every form of sexual violence performed by armed actors during the war. To this end, some steps have already been taken. The UN Resolution in favor of the creation of an International Commission of Inquiry refers explicitly to the need to recognize the gender dimension of violations and abuses.

Beyond the horizon of the war, the safety of Ukrainian women in their homes relies on the protection offered by State legislation against domestic violence. In this respect, the Ukrainian government has recently taken a few measures in what the international community deems to be the “right direction”. A very important reform taken in the summer of 2021 allows for the military to be prosecuted for domestic violence on a general basis rather than on the basis of the disciplinary statute as it was before. This is especially important in light of the findings of increased risk of domestic violence in families of veterans (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). However, some critical aspects remain. In the current context, a crucial factor might be the limit of 6 months to prosecute the crime from the occurrence of the violence. An extension of such a period at a time when the normal functioning of many institutions is suspended or subject to delays can attenuate the perception of impunity that the exceptionality of the circumstances creates.

When it comes to refugees, there is as mentioned a need for better vetting of private hosts, although the urgency of action that the current circumstances require makes this a particularly challenging task. State effort in this direction has been complemented by civil society initiatives. For example, in Sweden, Facebook groups that lined up to coordinate the offer of housing are now organizing themselves to create a system for verifying housing and hosts.

Ukrainian politicians have also asked Western countries to be prepared to offer expertise on how to support survivors of rape and other sexual violence in conflict.

Other experts recommend reliance on cultural and linguistic mediators to help refugee women access services for victims of IPV that are already offered by local actors in their temporary host country (Conference panel).

In the longer term, guaranteeing economic safety for refugees is also an effective measure to reduce their vulnerability to exploitation from sex-traffickers and criminal organizations.

Finally, yet importantly, the involvement of women in peace negotiation processes should be sought after. Echoing the discussion on women’s scarcity in leadership positions in peacetime, the gender-unequal composition of peace delegations poses an issue of equality, representativeness, and efficiency (Bertrand 2018). Interestingly, it has been noted that a more truthful narrative of war, which recognizes women’s role not only as victims but also as perpetrators (and the converse for men, although proportions are clearly unbalanced in both cases), might help pave the way for higher female representation at negotiation tables (Conference panel). Relatedly, the European Institute for Gender Equality proposes gender mainstreaming of all policies and programs involved in conflict resolution processes (EIGE). The international community should also consider gender mainstreaming of reconstruction programs, to help build a more gender-equal post-conflict Ukraine.

References

  • Amnesty International. (2020). Not a Private Matter. Domestic and Sexual Violence against Women in Eastern Ukraine.
  • Baaz, M. E., and Stern, M. (2013). Sexual violence as a weapon of war?: Perceptions, prescriptions, problems in the Congo and beyond. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Bertrand, M. (2018). Coase lecture–the glass ceiling. Economica85(338), 205-231.
  • Cesur, R., and Sabia, J. J. (2016). When war comes home: The effect of combat service on domestic violence. Review of Economics and Statistics98(2), 209-225.
  • Guarnieri, E., and Tur-Prats, A. (2022). Cultural distance and conflict-related sexual violence. Mimeo
  • Reis, C. (2021). Sexual abuse during humanitarian operations still happens. What must be done to end it. The Conversation, October 5 2021. https://theconversation.com/sexual-abuse-during-humanitarian-operations-still-happens-what-must-be-done-to-end-it-169223
  • Stark, L. and Ager, A. (2011). A systematic review of prevalence studies of gender-based violence in complex emergencies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse12(3), pp.127-134.
  • Vu, A., Adam, A., Wirtz, A., Pham, K., Rubenstein, L., Glass, N., Beyrer, C. and Singh, S. (2014). The prevalence of sexual violence among female refugees in complex humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS currents6.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Understanding the Economic and Social Context of Gender-based and Domestic Violence in Central and Eastern Europe – Preliminary Survey Evidence

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This brief presents preliminary findings from a cross-country survey on perceptions and prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence conducted in September 2021 in eight countries: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. We discuss the design and content of the study and present initial information on selected topics that were covered in the survey. The collected data has been used in three studies presented at the FROGEE Conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” and offers a unique resource to study gender-based violence in the region.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the academic and policy interest in the causes and consequences of domestic violence, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has tragically reminded us about the gender dimension of war. There is no doubt that a gender lens is a necessary perspective to understand and appreciate the full consequences of these two ongoing crises.

The tragic reason behind the increased attention given to domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdowns is the substantial evidence that gender-based violence has intensified to such an extent that the United Nations raised the alarm about a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls (UN Women on-line link). Already before the pandemic, one in three women worldwide had experienced physical or sexual violence, usually at the hands of an intimate partner, and this number has only been increasing. The tragic reports from the military invasion of Ukraine concerning violence against women and children, as well as information on the heightened risks faced by war refugees from Ukraine, most of whom are women, should only intensify our efforts to better understand the background behind these processes and study the potential policy solutions to limit them to a minimum in the current and future crises.

The most direct consequences of gender-based and domestic violence – to the physical and mental health of the victims – are clearly of the highest concern and are the leading arguments in favour of interventions aimed at limiting the scale of violence. One should remember though, that the consequences and the related social costs of gender-based and domestic violence are far broader, and need not be caused by direct acts of physical violence. Gender-based and domestic violence can take the form of psychological pressure, limits on individual freedoms, or access to financial resources within households. As research in recent decades demonstrates, such forms of abuse also have significant consequences for the psychological well-being, social status, and professional development of its victims. All these outcomes are associated with not only high individual costs, but also with substantial social and economic costs to our societies.

This policy brief presents an outline of a survey conducted in eight countries aimed at better understanding the socio-economic context of gender-based violence. The survey, developed by the FREE Network of independent research institutes, has a regional focus on Central and Eastern Europe, with Sweden being an interesting benchmark country. The data was collected in September 2021 in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. The socio-economic situation of all these countries irrevocably changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the ongoing war, and its dramatic consequences. The world’s attention focused on the unspeakable violence committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine, the persecution in Belarus and Russia of their own citizens who were protesting against the invasion, and the challenges other neighbouring countries have faced as a result of an unprecedented wave of Ukrainian refugees. This change, on the one hand, calls for a certain distance with which we should judge the survey data and the derived results. On the other hand, the data may serve as a unique resource to support the analysis of the pre-war conditions in these countries with the aim to understand the background driving forces behind this dramatic crisis. In as much as the gender lens is necessary to comprehend the full scale of the consequences of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it will be equally indispensable in the process of post-war development and reconciliation once peace is again restored.

Survey Design, Countries, and Samples

The survey was conducted in eight countries in September 2021 through as a telephone (CATI) survey using the list assisted random digit dialling (LA-RDD) method covering both cell phones and land-lines, and the sampling was carried out in such a way as to make the final sample representative of the respective populations by gender and three age group (18-39; 40-54; 55+). The collected samples varied from 925 to 1000 individuals. The same questionnaire initially prepared as a generic English version was fielded in all eight countries (in the respective national languages). The only deviations from the generic version were related to the education categories and to a set of final questions implemented in Latvia, Russia and Ukraine with a focus on the evaluation of national IPV legislation.

Table 1 presents some basic sample statistics, while Figure 1 shows the unweighted age and gender compositions in each country. The proportion of women in the sample varies between 49.4% in Sweden and 55.0% in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The average sample age is between 43 (Armenia) and 51 (Sweden), while the proportion of individuals with higher education is between 29.3% in Belarus and 55.4% in Georgia. The highest proportion of respondents living in rural areas could be found in Armenia at 62.9%, while the lowest was in Georgia at 24.1%. Figure 1 illustrates good coverage across age groups for both men and women.

Table 1. FROGEE Survey: samples and basic demographics

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Figure 1. FROGEE Survey: gender and age distributions

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Socio-economic Conditions and Other Background Characteristics

To be able to examine the relationship between different aspects of domestic and gender-based violence to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, an extensive set of questions concerning the demographic composition of their household and their material conditions were asked at the beginning of the interview. These questions included information about partnership history and family structure, the size of the household and living conditions, education and labour market status (of the respondent and his/her partner) and general questions concerning material wellbeing. In Figure 2 we show a summary of two of the latter set of questions – the proportion of men and women who find it difficult or very difficult to make ends meet (Figure 2A) and the proportion who declared that the financial situation of their household deteriorated in the last two years, i.e. since September 2019, which can be used as an indicator of the material consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can see that the difficulties in making ends meet are by far lowest in Sweden, and slightly lower in the other EU countries (Latvia and Poland). The differences are less pronounced with regard to the implication of the pandemic, but also in this case respondents in Sweden seem to have been least affected.

 Figure 2. Making ends meet and the consequences of COVID-19

a. Difficulties in making ends meet


b. Material conditions deteriorated since 2019

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Perceptions and Incidence of Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and Abuse

Frequency of differential treatment and abuse

The set of questions concerning domestic and gender-based violence started with an initial module related to the different treatment of men and women, with respondents asked to identify how often they witnessed certain behaviours aimed toward women. The questions covered aspects such as women being treated “with less courtesy than men”, being “called names or insulted for being a woman” and women being “the target of jokes of sexual nature” or receiving “unwanted sexual advances from a man she doesn’t know”, and the respondents were to evaluate if in the last year they have witnessed such behaviours on a scale from never, through rarely, sometimes, often, to very often. We present the proportion of respondents answering “often” or “very often” to two of these questions in Figure 3A (“People have acted as if they think women are not smart”) and 3B (“A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature”). We find significant variation across these two dimensions of differential treatment, and we generally find that women are more sensitive to perceiving such treatment. It is interesting to note that the proportion of women who declared witnessing differential treatment in Sweden is very high in comparison to for example Latvia or Belarus, which, as we shall see below, does not correspond to the proportion of women (and men) witnessing more violent types of behaviour against women.

Figure 3. Frequency of differential treatment (often or very often)

a. People have acted as if they think women are not smart


b. A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Questions on the frequency of witnessing physical abuse were also asked in relation to the scale of witnessed behaviour. Here respondents were once again asked to say how often “in their day-to-day life” they have witnessed specific behaviours. These included such types of abuse as: a woman being “threatened by a man”, “slapped, hit or punched by a man”, or “sexually abused or assaulted by a man”. The proportion of respondents who say that they have witnessed such behaviour with respect to two of the questions from this section are presented in Figure 4. In Figure 4A we show the proportion of men and women who have witnessed a woman being “slapped, hit or punched” (sometimes, often or very often), while in Figure 4B being “touched inappropriately without her consent”. Relative to the perceptions of differential treatment the incidence of a woman being hit or punched (4A) declared by the respondents seems more intuitive when considered against the overall international statistics of gender equality. The proportions are lowest in Sweden and Poland, and highest in Armenia and Ukraine. However, the perception of inappropriate touching by men with respect to women (Figure 4B) shows a similar extent of such actions across all analysed countries.

Figure 4. Frequency of abuse (sometimes, often or very often)

a. A woman has been slapped, hit or punched by a man


b. A woman has been touched inappropriately, without her consent, by a man

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Perceptions of abuse

The questions concerning the scale of witnessed behaviours were complemented by a module related to the evaluation of certain behaviours from the perspective of their classification as abuse and the degree to which certain types of gender-specific behaviours are acceptable. Thus, for example respondents were asked if they consider “beating (one’s partner) causing severe physical harm” to be an example of abuse within a couple (Figure 5A) or if “prohibition to dress as one likes” represents abuse (Figure 5B). This module included an extensive list of behaviours, such as “forced abortion”, “constant humiliation, criticism”, “restriction of access to financial resources”, etc. As we can see in Figure 6, with respect to the clearest types of abuse – such as physical violence – respondents in all countries were pretty much unanimous in declaring such behaviour to represent abuse. With respect to other behaviours the variation in their evaluation across countries is much greater – for example, while nearly all men and women in Sweden consider prohibiting a partner to dress as he/she likes to be abusive (Figure 5B), only about 57% of women and 36% of men in Armenia share this view.

The questionnaire also included questions specifically focused on the perception of intimate partner violence. These asked respondents if they knew about women who in the last three months were “beaten, slapped or threatened physically by their intimate partner”, and the evaluation of how often intimate partners act physically violent towards their wives.

Figure 5. Perceptions of abuse: are these examples of abuse within a couple?

a. Beating causing severe physical harm


b. Prohibition to dress as one likes

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

A further evaluation of attitudes towards violent behaviour was done with respect to the relationship between a husband and wife and his right to hit or beat the wife in reaction to certain behaviours. In Figure 6 we show the distribution of responses regarding the justification for beating one’s wife in reaction to her neglect of the children (6A) or burning food (6B). The questions also covered such behaviour as arguing with her husband, going out without telling him, or refusing to have sex. As we can see in Figure 6, once again we find substantial country variation in the proportion of the samples – both men and women – who justify such violent behaviour within couples. This was particularly the case when respondents were asked about justification of violent behaviour in the case of a woman neglecting the children. In Armenia as many as 30% of men and 22% of women agree that physical beating is justified in those cases. These proportions are manyfold greater than what can be observed in countries such as Latvia, where 3% of men and women agreed that abuse was justifiable under these circumstances, or Sweden, where only 1% of men and women agreed.

Figure 6. Perceptions of abuse: is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife

a. If she neglects the children


b. If she burns the food

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Seeking help and the legal framework

The final part of the questionnaire focused on the evaluation of different reactions to incidents of domestic and gender-based violence. Respondents were first asked if a woman should seek help from various people and institutions if she is beaten by her partner – respondents were asked if she should seek help from the police, relatives or friends, a psychologist, a legal service or if, in such situations, she does not need help. In Figure 7 we show the proportion of people who agreed with the last statement, i.e. claimed that it is only the couple’s business. The proportions of respondents who declare such an attitude is higher among men than women within each country, and is highest among men in Armenia (48%) and Georgia (25%). Again, these proportions are in stark contrast to men in Sweden, or even Poland, where only 4% and 8% of men agreed, respectively. Nevertheless, looking at the total survey sample, a vast majority believe that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence should seek help outside of her home, indicating that at least some forms of institutionalised support for women are popular measures with most people.

Figure 7. Proportions agreeing that domestic violence is only the couple’s business

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

The interview also included questions on the need for specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence and on the existence of such legislation in the respondents’ countries. The latter questions were extended in three countries – Latvia, Russia and Ukraine – to evaluate the specific sets of regulations implemented recently in these countries and to facilitate an analysis of the role IPV legislation can play in reducing violence within households. Legislation on domestic violence is relatively recent. During the last four decades, though, changes accelerated in this respect around the world. Legislative measures have been introduced in many countries, covering different aspects of preventing, protecting against and prosecuting various forms of violence and abuse that might happen within the marriage or the family. Research strives to offer evaluations on what legal provisions are most effective, in a setting in which statistics and information are still far from perfect, and as a consequence of the dearth of strong evidence the public debate on the matter is often lively. For legislation to have an effect on behaviour through shaping the cost of committing a crime, on the one hand, and the benefit of reporting it or seeking help, on the other, or more indirectly through changing norms in society, information and awareness are key. For how can deterrence be achieved if people do not know what the sanctions are? And how can reporting be encouraged if victims do not know their rights? The evidence on legislation awareness is unfortunately quite scarce. A survey of the criminology field (Nagin, 2013) concludes that this is a major knowledge gap.

Figure 8 shows the proportions of answers to questions concerning the need for and existence of legislation specifically targeted towards intimate partner violence. We can see that while support for such legislation is quite high (Figure 8A), it is generally lower among men (in particular in Armenia, Russia and Belarus). Awareness of existence of such laws, on the other hand, is much lower, and it is particularly low among women. It should be pointed out that all countries have in fact implemented provisions against domestic violence in their criminal code, but only around half of the population, sometimes much fewer, are aware of that.

Figure 8. Need for and awareness of IPV legislation

a. State should have specific legislation aimed at punishing IPV


b. Country has specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Recent reforms of DV legislation that were implemented in Russia in 2017, in Ukraine in 2019 and in Latvia just a few months ago (at the time of the survey, the changes were at the stage of a proposal) were the subject of the final survey questions in these countries. We find that awareness of these recent reforms is very low in all three countries, and knowledge about the reform content (gauged with the help of a multiple-choice question with three alternative statements) is even lower. Our analysis suggests that gender and family situation are the two factors that most robustly predict support for legislation, while education and age are associated with awareness and knowledge of the reforms. Minority Russian speakers are less aware of the reforms in both Ukraine and Latvia, in Ukraine are also less likely to answer correctly about the content of the reform, and in Latvia are less supportive of DV legislation in general.

Analyses of this type are useful for policy design, to better understand which groups lack relevant knowledge and should be targeted by, for example, information campaigns to combat DV, such as those many governments around the world implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.

Future Work Based on the Survey

The above is just a small sample of the rich source of information that has resulted from conducting the survey. Already from this simple overview we can see some interesting results. There are, for example, clear differences between men and women in perceptions of how common certain types of abusive behaviour are. However, for many questions differences between countries are larger than those between men and women within a country. Interestingly such differences are also different depending on the severity of the abuse or violence. In Sweden the perception of women being victims of less violent abuse is higher than in some other countries where instead some more violent types of abuse are reported as being more common. This could, of course, be due to actual differences in actual events but it is also possible that there are differences in what types of behaviour are considered to represent harassment and abuse in different societies. More careful data work is needed to try to answer questions like this and many others. Currently there are a number of ongoing research projects based on the survey results, three of which will be presented at the FREE-network conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” in Stockholm on May 11, 2022. Our hope is that this work will help in taking actions to prevent gender-based abuse and domestic violence based on a better understanding of underlying cross-country differences in social norms and attitudes and their relation to socio-economic factors.

About FROGEE Policy Briefs

FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.

The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Economic Perspectives on Domestic Violence | Insights from the FROGEE Webinar | Part 1

Broken mirror with a man's hand representing domestic violence during COVID-19 pandemic frogee

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown restrictions have amplified the academic and policy interest in the causes and consequences of domestic violence. With this in mind, the FREE Network invited academic researchers to participate in an online workshop entitled “Economic perspectives on domestic violence“. This policy brief is the first in a series of two briefs summarizing the papers presented at the workshop. The current brief addresses the presentations that had a more general focus on domestic violence. The second brief will discuss the papers devoted to the domestic violence implications of the pandemic.

Introduction

Domestic violence (DV), as well as one of its main forms – intimate partner violence (IPV) – are societal issues of massive proportion. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 3 women across 80 countries worldwide are victims of IPV during their lifetime (WHO, 2013). IPV imposes huge costs on society: its victims, for instance, are estimated to be twice as susceptible to depression and alcohol abuse, and 16% more likely to give birth to a low birth-weight child (WHO, 2013).

IPV separates itself from other types of violent offenses in several aspects. To start with, the intimate victim-perpetrator relationship causes IPV to be vastly underreported. The victim may have feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame, which could deter her from seeking support.  Further, IPV and more generally DV cases also have high rates of attrition within the justice system. These distinct characteristics highlight the level of difficulty in developing policies aimed at helping victims of intimate partner abuse. The fact that the prevalence of IPV is widespread and at the same time vastly under-reported, casts doubt on the policy measures and legislation in place today.

This policy brief is the first in a series of two that summarizes the recent economic research on IPV presented in the workshop entitled “Economic Perspectives on Domestic Violence”. The workshop was organized as a part of the Forum for Research on Gender Economics (FROGEE) supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

Economic Determinants of Domestic Violence

A number of presentations in the workshop were devoted to the economic determinants of domestic violence.

Andreas Kotsadam presented a paper on the relationship between women’s employment and IPV in Ethiopia. The link between the two is twofold: employment could increase women’s empowerment and, thereby, decrease IPV; however, the boost in empowerment could threaten the man’s status in (male-female) relationships, and lead to violent retaliation. Violence could also be used to extract economic resources from working women. To study which of these mechanisms prevail, the authors conducted an extensive field experiment collaborating with shoe and garment factories in Ethiopia. From a list of qualified job-candidates provided by employers, they randomly assigned 1500 equally qualified women living with partners to either getting a job (treatment group) or not (control group). Prior to treatment, women from both groups were interviewed and asked to answer various questions regarding intimate partner abuse. They were also called to a follow-up survey 6 months later. The statistical analysis of these answers fails to establish a causal link between employment status and the incidence of IPV.

Taking a more theoretical approach, Paul Seabright‘s preliminary work on the determinants of IPV offered a dynamic framework modeling how (unpredictable) economic circumstances and (predictable) individuals’ traits influence domestic violence, as well as formation and dissolution of partnerships. The model distinguishes individuals in their ability to control resources within relationships without the use of violence (“skills”), and in their costs of engaging in violence (“temperament”). The model assumes that individuals with more violent temperaments are on average endowed with lower skills. It predicts women’s income and their risk of IPV should be negatively correlated cross-sectionally, but that positive shocks in income should increase IPV for married women while decreasing it for women with easier exit options. The authors test the model on survey data from Brazil and data on randomized expansions of a food-program in Ecuador. The results support the cross-sectional prediction and confirm that the effect of income shocks depends on exit options, though does not support the prediction of an increase for married women.

Sonia Bhalotra’s presentation addressed the DV consequences of another type of economic shock, namely female and male unemployment, and also considered the role of unemployment benefits as a mitigating factor. By exploiting an extensive dataset covering every court case in Brazil between 2009 and 2017, and information on mass layoffs at the local level, the study finds that the probability of a male being prosecuted for a DV crime increases by 32% when he loses his job and persists at similar levels 4 years after. For female job-loss, the corresponding effect is significantly larger and amounts to 52%. Bhalotra and her co-authors argue that the fact that unemployment of either the man or the woman leads to an increase in domestic violence is consistent with unemployment constituting a negative shock to income and a positive shock to time spent at home. They further argue that the larger impact of female relative to male unemployment is potentially consistent with the “household bargaining model”, which encapsulates the idea that it becomes more difficult for a woman to leave a violent relationship when she is more economically dependent on her partner. Additional analysis shows that eligibility for unemployment insurance increases DV once benefits expire and that this is in turn a result of unemployment benefits increasing peoples’ time in unemployment.

The Role of Police

Part of the workshop was dedicated to the role of the criminal justice system. A fact that stresses the importance of studying police behavior is that domestic abuse cases generally suffer from high legal attrition and most of them are dropped before reaching the court. Variation in the characteristics of law enforcement could likely play a role in explaining differences in DV across contexts.

In this vein, Sofia Amaral introduced a study on the relationship between gender diversity of the police force and domestic violence in the UK. The gender-distribution within law enforcement is believed to directly influence DV in two ways: First, gender-based differences in attitudes and norms may influence police-handling in DV cases. Second, if the gender of the victim aligns with that of the officer, the victim may be more willing to cooperate and disclose evidence. The data shows that the total share of women in the police force is almost equal to that of men, but the tasks performed differ systematically across genders. Women are found to be overrepresented among call-handlers and underrepresented among first-response teams. For each position, Amaral and her co-authors investigate whether changes in gender-distribution influence the rate of legal attrition, rate of repeat victimization, and the amount of time spent at a scene (response duration). By analyzing police force and crime data the study shows that there are substantial efficiency gains from increasing gender diversity, particularly in first-response teams. An increase in the share of females in first-response teams increases response duration, reduces legal attrition, and decreases repeat victimization. There is an even larger effect when a female is the most experienced officer in the team. The gender of the call-handler has no significant effect on the outcomes of interest.

Along somewhat similar lines, Victoria Endl-Geyer presented research on the link between the quality of police response and DV in the UK. More specifically, the research explores how increased police response times, caused by police station closures in 2012, affected the rate of repeat victimization in DV cases. Faster police response times are believed to improve the victim’s cooperation: If the police are quick to arrive at the scene, the victim gets less time to revise the initial assessment that she needed support. The results show that faster police responses are associated with a higher conviction rate. However, they also increase the likelihood of repeat victimization. A potential explanation could be the so-called “reprisal effect” – the perpetrator retaliates with more violence as a response to being reported by his partner.

Criminalization

Many studies on IPV, including some that were presented at the workshop, highlight that an inherently good policy such as improving police response, sometimes leads to unintended negative consequences to victims. In the keynote speech, Leigh Goodmark addressed this topic by critically discussing the history, consequences, and alternatives to criminalization of IPV in the US. As suggested by her recent book, domestic violence has fallen in the US since the introduction of criminalization and mandatory arrest of IPV crimes. However, historical trends show that the overall crime rate has fallen to a greater extent. Goodmark provided several reasons why criminalization has likely been unsuccessful in deterring IPV.  Some studies emphasize that it is the accountability and monitoring of perpetrators (even after incarceration) that has been effective in deterring IPV crimes and not the punishment itself. In fact, there are vast costs of DV criminalization occurring to victims of domestic abuse, such as financial instability caused by unemployment of (in many cases) the primary breadwinner in a household. Also, criminalization has been shown to exacerbate other correlates of IPV such as aggressive and hostile tendencies of the perpetrator. Goodmark proposed alternatives to DV criminalization that avoid such costs and thereby, are potentially more effective in reducing domestic abuse. First, there are solutions rooted in economics such as cash-transfer programs, employment training, and micro-financing. These types of measures can help to reduce the economic penalties of seeking support and strengthen the victim’s financial independence. Also, more social solutions were suggested such as community organizing, restorative justice, and community accountability. Moreover, Goodmark underlined the fact that individuals with adverse childhood experiences, often involving violence, are significantly more likely to commit violent crimes such as IPV. Identifying and intervening at an early age to educate these individuals about intimate relationships has been shown to be effective in dealing with the problem.  In a nutshell, Goodmark stressed the importance of constructing a balanced policy approach that targets the origins of DV and argued that the time has come to reconsider punishing violence with more violence.

Reporting

Problems related to IPV misreporting were a recurring subject of discussion at the workshop. A lot of the previous research on IPV relies on direct surveys asking women whether they were a victim of different instances of IPV. The main problem associated with such surveys relates to accuracy: social factors such as stigma, shame, and/or self-blame, as well as privacy concerns, are likely to influence respondents’ answers. A practice that has proven successful for sensitive questions is the use of an indirect method called list experiments, where the structure of the survey mitigates much of the above concerns on the respondent’s side (see, e.g., https://blogs.worldbank.org/ impactevaluation/list-experiments-sensitive-questions-methods-bleg).

Veronica Frisancho presented a study on the gap in reporting originating from direct questionnaires vs. list experiments based on experimental evidence from Peru. The experiment considers two groups of 500 women each. Women in the first group participate in a survey that uses direct questionnaires, whereas those in the second group answer a survey using indirect questionnaires. Based on the answers, the authors obtain an IPV prevalence rate for each group and define under-reporting as the difference in prevalence between them, under the assumption that the rate of under-reporting in the presence of indirect questionnaires is minor. Unexpectedly, yet encouraging, they find no evidence of misreporting in the direct-questions method. However, when looking closer at different education levels, they find that under-reporting is significantly more prevalent for highly educated women. In other words, less educated women are more truthful when answering questions about IPV. Frisancho emphasized that these types of patterns make it more difficult to identify the most vulnerable groups, implying that direct methods could increase the risk of mistargeted policies.

More generally, there are several reasons why respondents may be less truthful when answering questions related to IPV. On the one hand, individuals may be aware that they are victims of abuse, but perhaps are unwilling to confess due to stigma. On the other hand, it could be that individuals fail to identify themselves as victims of abuse at all, and do not consider their relationship unhealthy. Against this background, Nishith Prakash presented preliminary results of an ongoing study on behavioral barriers to the demand for DV-support services. The baseline results of the survey indicate belief gaps among women who scored high on levels of abuse: a significant majority of abuse victims rated their relationship as healthy. While 46.43% of respondents report some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence, the portion of those with the prior belief that they are in an abusive relationship is only 1%. The study also finds that stress about Covid-19 correlates with higher levels of self-blame, abuse, and lower levels of understanding of what abusive behaviors are.

The covid-19 pandemic and its massive repercussions on determinants of DV such as mobility, economic insecurity, and social isolation have offered new possibilities for researchers to study the underlying causes of DV, while also making DV research ever more important. The next policy brief in this series will summarize the presentations which were specifically devoted to the consequences of the pandemic on DV. On behalf of FROGEE and SITE, we would like to thank the speakers for their contributions to the understanding of this topic, which will be indispensable both to the academic community and to policymakers in their efforts to design more effective policies for the future. We would also like to thank SIDA for generous financial support.

References

  • WHO, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council. “Global and regional estimates of violence against women”. Reference No. 978 92 4 156462 5. 2013.

List of Participants

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Intimate Partner Violence, Norms and Policies

20170306 Intimate Partner Violence - FREE Policy Brief Image

Violence against women has been called by then UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan, “perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And, it is perhaps the most pervasive.” Although the spread of domestic violence is difficult to quantify precisely, this is uncontroversially an issue worthy of policy concern. As is often the case, the developing world lags behind. What can development cooperation do? A growing body of economic research, including our recent results, shows that improving women’s economic opportunities matters.

It is not easy to put a figure on the prevalence of violence against women. A recent review (Alhabib et al., 2010) reports that “the prevalence of lifetime domestic violence varies from 1.9% in Washington, US, to 70% in Hispanic Latinas in Southeast US.” As the quote shows, most of the currently available studies were conducted in the US or Europe, although the focus on the developing world is rapidly growing. Besides the geographic bias, the nature of data available on the matter further limits the precision of our knowledge. Surveys (used by the vast majority of studies), crime statistics and administrative health data each suffer from different limitations. One detail, though, consistently emerges in the big picture: the largest share of violence against women is perpetrated by a cohabiting partner or other family members, what is commonly referred to as intimate partner violence or domestic violence.

In addition to the human costs, a growing body of research shows that domestic violence has huge economic costs, including the direct costs of health, legal, police and other services. There are also broader social costs, more difficult to quantify. Domestic violence is likely to reduce women’s participation in productive employment and education, and has also been shown to affect the welfare and education of children.

Legislation and policy

While specific domestic violence laws were uncommon just a few decades ago, many countries have, over the past two decades, adopted or revised legislation. In 2008, the United Nations (UN) launched a dedicated initiative advocating for universal ”adoption and enforcement of national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls, in line with international human rights standards.”

Even though issues of implementation and enforcement are more important than the letter of these laws, it is still crucial that laws are there. In such an area where culture and social norms play a big role, legislation can function as a signal of what a society deems acceptable and coordinate behavior to ultimately change social norms. This is why for example the recent law change in Russia was strongly criticized, regardless of the alleged advantages of the new formulation in terms of practical implementation. [A/N: The reform decriminalized and reduced the punishment for attacks that result in “minor injuries”, as long as they do not happen more than once a year, from two years to 15 days in prison. Proponents claimed that declassifying this form of violence from criminal to administrative offense would lower the threshold for reporting, and avoid misapplication by the police for extortion purposes.]

Besides legislation, a broad range of policies in different areas play a role for the prevalence of domestic violence and the fight against it. The knowledge gaps in terms of prevalence hinder the investigation of the factors that amplify or dampen the incidence of domestic violence, and as a consequence make it more difficult to draw implications for policy strategies. Whatever improves the parity between genders and the status of women in a society is however likely to work in the right direction, at least in the long run. Among the policies with established effects in this direction are legal rights for women (for example in terms of political representation); the introduction of role models (for example through cable TV); an improved balance of economic resources within the household (see Jayachandran, 2015 for an overview of the literature).

Development policy

As for many other areas, developing countries tend to lag behind in this respect. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), domestic violence is considered a barrier to sustainable development, with 36%-70% prevalence (Garcia et al., 2005) and an estimated cost of 1.2%-3.7% of GDP (Duvvury et al., 2013). These estimates take into account a broad range of consequences for women and children. Besides direct and indirect health and life expectancy consequences, distorted outcomes for women include lower autonomy, affecting economic and financial decisions, effectiveness of home production, freedom of movement, education and labor market participation and healthcare decisions. Children are affected by distorted reproductive decisions, for example in regard to birth spacing, resulting in lower birth weights and worse chances of survival, and rearing decisions in general. Still these costs can be thought of as a lower bound, given the conservatism of the methodology and the gross under-reporting of violence. Although the main responsibility for policy lies of course within the country, we might still wonder what the international community can do to help, within the framework of development cooperation.

Aid and domestic violence

Even though the donor community agreed, in Addis Abeba in 2015, on a ”beyond aid” agenda to reach the 17 sustainable development goals (see UN, 2015), the main tool of development cooperation is currently still foreign aid. In recent research with Anders Olofsgård and Evelina Bonnier, we investigate the impact of aid on gender-related outcomes, and among them domestic violence. There are three reasons why we expect an impact of development aid on these outcomes. First of all, there may be a direct effect of aid-financed projects on the intended beneficiaries. Many aid projects have nowadays an explicit component targeting women and girls. Moreover, donors also agreed to gender ”mainstreaming” (Beijing Platform for Action, 1995), which implies that gender concerns should be integrated into all policy and program cycles, and that governments should engage in a dialogue on gender and development. This is because women and girls are seen as particularly vulnerable in situations of poverty and conflict, but also potentially instrumental in the general process of development (Duflo, 2012).

Second, aid projects are typically intended to benefit whole communities, and there are often positive externalities that extend beyond the immediately targeted beneficiaries and beyond the stated objectives of the project. Think for instance of immunization drives against infectious diseases (Miguel and Kremer, 2004). When a big enough group of school children are treated against, for example, intestinal worms, far larger communities are also protected due to the now lower probability of contagion, and also the indirect benefits extend to them. Projects targeting livelihoods and jobs can also increase aggregate demand in the community, benefiting those not directly involved in the projects. The ultimate level of spillover goes through economy-wide growth and development. Research shows that gender relations tend to become more equal with economic development and that women tend to gain more than men (Duflo, 2012).

Finally, beyond economic opportunities, positive spillovers can come through transmission of information and attitudes, changing social norms through personal networks, including both direct beneficiaries and others.

Figure 1. Effect of aid on domestic violence

Source: Berlin et al., forthcoming

Figure 1 is based on our empirical investigation linking the most recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in Uganda and Malawi to information on the geographical coordinates of aid projects placement, provided by AidData. Men in the areas exposed to aid (which we define to be within a 15 km radius of at least one aid-financed project) are 11% more likely to share the opinion that beating one’s wife is not justifiable, as compared to men not exposed to aid. This difference is even larger than for women (4%). Most importantly, women exposed to aid are less likely to have experienced some form of violence, physical (–3%), emotional (–9%) and in particular sexual (–24%). We think this might be connected to the improved status of the woman in economic terms. In fact, we find much more modest impacts from exposure to specifically gender-targeted projects (examples of which include “Community participation and development”, “Support for vulnerable groups”, “Improvement of outpatient, maternal and child health services”, “Women’s empowerment for peace”, and “Anti-trafficking for women and children”). We also find that aid presence affects labor market participation for women, but do not find this effect from gender-specific aid. This is consistent with the idea that women’s relative status within the household improves as a consequence of better economic opportunities, in this case induced by aid. Evidence supporting this mechanism is piling up, see Aizer (2010), Bobonis et al. (2013), Heath (2014), Anderberg et al. (2016), Hidrobo et al. (2016), to cite just a few. The types of activities that fall under our definition of gender-specific aid, instead, do not seem to contribute in this respect.

Conclusion

Summarizing recent research, the World Development Report 2015 called for development policy to focus on norms and mental models. These are often highly persistent and hard to change. We know that gender-related norms are important for outcomes that deeply affect the lives of women and girls. We do not know a lot about how to change them, but improving the status of women and girls in society seems to be one important piece of the puzzle. Our recent findings about the impacts of aid imply, echoing the WDR 2015, that this should be an important goal for development cooperation.

References

  • Alhabib, Samia; Ull Nur; and Roger Jones. 2010. ”Domestic Violence Against Women: Systematic Review of Prevalence Studies”, Journal of Family Violence, 25, pp 369–382.
  • Aizer, Anna, 2010. ”The Gender Wage Gap and Domestic Violence”, The American economic review. 100(4),1847-1859.
  • Anderberg, Dan; Rainer, H., Wadsworth, J., & Wilson, T., 2016. “Unemployment and Domestic Violence: Theory and Evidence.” The Economic Journal 126.597, pp 1947-1979.
  • Berlin, Maria P.; Evelina Bonnier; and Anders Olofsgård, forth. “The Donor Footprint and Gender Gaps”, UNU-WIDER Working Paper Series.
  • Bobonis, Gustavo J.; Melissa González-Brenes; and Roberto Castro, 2013. “Public Transfers and Domestic Violence: The Roles of Private Information and Spousal Control.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 5, no. 1
  • Duflo, Esther, 2012. “Women empowerment and economic development”, Journal of Economic Literature, 50(4), 1051-79.
  • Duvvury, Nata; Callan, A.; Carney, P.; and Raghavendra, S.; 2013. ”Intimate partner violence: Economic costs and implications for growth and development.” Women’s Voice, Agency, & Participation Research Series, 3.
  • García-Moreno, Claudia; Jansen, H. A. F. M.; Ellsberg, M.; Heise, L.; and Watts, C., 2005. ”WHO Multicountry Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women: summary report of initial results on prevalence, health outcomes and women’s responses.” World Health Organization. Geneva.
  • Jayachandran, Seema. 2015. “The roots of gender inequality in developing countries.” economics 7.1, pp 63-88.
  • Heath, Rachel, 2014. “Women’s access to labor market opportunities, control of household resources, and domestic violence: Evidence from Bangladesh.” World Development 57, pp 32-46.
  • Hidrobo, Melissa; Amber Peterman; and Lori Heise, 2016. “The Effect of Cash, Vouchers, and Food Transfers on Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Northern Ecuador.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 8.3, pp 284-303.
  • UN, 2015. ”Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” United Nations – Sustainable Development knowledge platform.

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