Date Published: February 7, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Rachel Jewkes, Julienne Corboz, Andrew Gibbs, Soraya Seedat.
Violence by mothers-in-law, as well as husbands, is a recognised problem in many countries. It has been given little attention in research on violence and its importance as a health problem, and aggravator of husband violence, has not been well established. Our aim was to describe patterns and the frequency of mother-in-law and sibling-in-law/sibling physical violence in relation to physical violence from husbands, and to describe risk characteristics and associated health behaviours of women with different abuse exposures.
1,463 women aged 18–48 were recruited into a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate a women empowerment intervention in 6 villages of Kabul and Nangarhar provinces. The women were interviewed at baseline. The analysis uses bi-variable and multivariable logistic regression.
932 of the women were currently married. Of these, 14% of women experienced mother-in-law physical violence and 23.2% of women experienced physical spousal violence in the previous 12 months. For 7.0% of women, these exposures were combined. Physical violence was associated with food insecurity and having to borrow for food, being in a polygamous marriage, living with their mother-in-law, as well as province of residence (higher in Nangarhar). Women who had earnings were relatively protected. Whilst most mothers-in-law were described in positive terms, those who used physical violence were much less likely to be described so and a quarter were described as very strict and controlling and 16.8% as cruel. Overall slightly more women described their husband in positive terms than their mother-in-law, but there was a very strong correlation between the way in which husbands were perceived and the violence of their mothers.
Mother-in-law and sibling-in-law/sibling physical violence is an appreciable problem among the women studied in Afghanistan, linked to poverty. It has a major impact on women’s health, componding the heath impact of IPV. In this setting conceptualising women’s risk and exposure to violence at home as only in terms of IPV is inadequate and the framing of domestic violence much more appropriately captures women’s risks and exposures. We suggest that it may be fruitful for many women to target violence prevention at the domestic unit rather than just at women and their husbands.
Violence against women is recognised as a major impairment to health and social development and it is primarily conceptualised as that perpetrated against a women by a current or ex-husband or boyfriend. This formulation realistically captures women’s primary risk in many global regions, but it does not necessarily do so as well in settings where after marriage women often move into their husband’s parent’s home or set up home with their mother in law. This is a common pattern in many geographical settings, especially those in areas where there is ‘classic patriarchy’ , which Kandiyoti described as encompassing North Africa, the Muslim Middle East, and South and East Asia (especially India and China) although it also includes less well documented areas such as Muslim Central Asia, e.g. Tajikistan and Afghanistan. This sets up possibilities for women having a range of other violence exposures within the home in these areas of the world.
The interviews were conducted as the baseline for a randomised controlled trial (RCT) evaluation of the women’s economic and social empowerment intervention of the international non-governmental organisation Women For Women International (WFWI). This was part of the What Works To Prevent Violence? A Global Programme on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), which has been funded by the UK Government’s Department For International Development (DFID) to advance the global knowledge on prevention of VAWG. The Global Programme is supporting the evaluation of 11 interventions using rigorous methods to assess their effectiveness in preventing violence against women and girls. This evaluation is part of this overall portfolio of work.
The prevalence of experience of physical violence in the past 12 months is shown in Table 1. Most of the women (69%) had not experienced physical violence from anyone in the household. 7.8% had experienced it from their mother-in-law or a sibling-in-law/sibling only. 16.2% had experienced it from their husband and 7.0% had experienced it from both. Thus 18.7% of women who had a mother-in-law alive (or who they had met) had experienced past year physical violence from their mother-in-law or a sibling-in-law/sibling, with or without experiencing physical violence from their husband. Physical violence by a sibling-in-law or sibling was common, with overall 11.4% of women experiencing this in the past year and 13.0% had experienced abuse from their mother-in-law in the last year. 5.8% of women had only experienced physical violence from their sibling-in-law/sibling and not from their mother-in-law and 7.4% had experienced physical violence from their mother-in-law and not a sibling-in-law/sibling. 5.6% had experienced both mother-in-law and sibling-in-law/sibling physical violence. Of the women who experienced physical violence from their mother-in-law, 55.5% currently lived with her, 34.6% had previously lived with her and 9.9% reported that she lived elsewhere.
We have shown that both physical violence from the husband and mother-in-law and sibling-in-law/sibling are substantial problems in the lives of many Afghan women in the study sample. There is a very strong association between the way women are treated by the husbands and by their mother-in-law, but it is not a complete overlap. Co-residence with the mother-in-law is clearly a factor for mother-in-law physical violence, but we have shown that this does not always result in mother-in-law violence, nor is it always a necessary component for women to experience this abuse.
Mother-in-law and sibling-in-law/sibling physical violence is an appreciable problem among the women studied in Afghanistan. It was linked to poverty, and one suspects conflict over scarce resources, at home. We have shown it to have major impact on women’s health and componds the heath impact of husband’s violence. In this setting conceptualising women’s risk and exposure to violence at home as only in terms of IPV, as a dyadic construct, is inadequate and the framing of domestic violence much more appropriately captures women’s risks and exposures. We suggest that it may be fruitful for many women to target violence prevention at the domestic unit rather than just at women and their husbands. Further research is needed on mother-in-law and sibling-in-law/sibling violence in Asia.