The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Justifications for Wife-Assault Among Iraqi Women

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 2:30 PM
Executive Center 2B (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Susan B. Sorenson, PhD, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background.  Attitudes toward wife beating appear to be associated with the occurrence of domestic violence.  Attitudes toward domestic violence in low- and middle-income countries have received recent research attention but little is known about such attitudes in the Middle East, a currently and historically unstable region.

Methods. Data are from Iraq's 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS3), an in-person representative sample survey. Response rates were high:  98.6% of the selected households and 98.6% of the selected 15-49 year old women participated. Women (N=27,186) were asked whether a husband would be justified in hitting or beating his wife under five specific circumstances. Simple descriptive statistics and multivariate logistic regressions were calculated. Population weights were applied so that findings are representative of the country as a whole.

Results.  Nearly 60% of Iraqi women reported that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife: 47.3% if she goes out without telling him, 42.8% if she neglects the children, 36.2% if she argues with him, 34.1% if she refuses sex, and 19.6% if she burns the food.  About 15% agreed with all five justifications. Support was higher among women who were younger, had ever been married, or who reside with many others. Among the married, those married to a relative (59.4%) reported greater and more pervasive agreement with the justifications for wife assault. Those living in a household with a telephone (but not a radio, television, or satellite dishes) were substantially less likely to support each of the justifications.

Conclusions. Iraqi women appear to support the hitting or beating of wives most when the woman asserts her autonomy or has violated her traditional role as a mother. We consider these findings from several perspectives including age cohort, social status, and isolation.

Younger generations, presumably with more access to the greater world, are generally expected to be more informed about and have attitudes reflecting modern society. We observed the opposite among Iraqi women in their attitudes about wife-assault. Support for wife-assault was highest among the youngest women (15- to 19-year olds); as the age of the women increased, the amount and pervasiveness of the agreement with the justifications decreased. These age differences suggest, from a developmental perspective, that as women age they become less tolerant of wife-assault or, from a birth cohort perspective, that beliefs have changed over the years and that they have changed in a way that is not to the benefit of women.

By extension, one might hypothesize that as women age, they marry and acquire status within the family and become less willing to tolerate at least certain justifications for wife-assault. However, these findings suggest otherwise. Women who had ever been married were more, not less, likely to agree with the tested justifications. And their supportive beliefs were more pervasive than those of never married women.

Findings are discussed within the context of technologies that link even isolated regions to the larger society and in the context of other violence in Iraq.