Internalised misogyny around the world: Where women think it’s acceptable to beat your wife

I recently happened upon a dataset that looks at an alarming cultural attitude: whether or not a husband is justified in hitting his wife.

Violence against women is extensive, even in developed countries like Canada. But I’d expect that in most, if not at all, developed countries, it’s culturally unacceptable for a husband to abuse his wife.

What about countries where it is culturally acceptable?

The data

The data is from the World Bank. They aggregated data from Demographic and National Health Surveys (DHS), UNICEF databases, and other surveys.

It shows the percentage of women ages 15-49 who believe a husband/partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife/partner for any of the following five reasons:

  • Arguing with him
  • Refusing to have sex
  • Burning the food
  • Going out without telling him
  • Neglecting the children

Remember that the respondents are women, not men. Consequently, the results of this question are a proxy for the generally-accepted attitudes toward women in each of these countries.

There are some caveats, though:

  • The data spans 15 yearsI used the most recent data available, ranging from 2000-2015. However, most of the data is recent: 85% is from 2010 or later.
  • Survey methodology could differ. The data comes from many surveys conducted across many years. Methodological differences could skew the results.
  • Many countries are excluded. The dataset contains 102 countries. Some regions, like North America and Western Europe, aren’t represented at all.

Domestic violence is considered acceptable in much of Africa

Africa immediately jumps out as a region with a lot of high-percentage countries. In fact, 8 of the top 10 countries are African, with Guinea topping the list at a staggering 92%.



Asia has an extraordinary range, from a low of < 1% in Nepal — incidentally, the lowest percentage in the dataset — to a high of 90% in Afghanistan.



Like Asia, the Middle East shows a broad range of percentages, from a low of 7% in Qatar to a high of 51% in Iraq.



Europe here means Eastern Europe (there’s no data for Western European countries). The figures are low, except for one outlier: Albania. Its figure (30%) is significantly higher than its neighbours (Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina). I don’t know why. If anyone has any theories, let me know in the comments.



Central & South America has relatively low percentages. That’s encouraging, but looking at things in absolute terms puts these figures in perspective. In Haiti, the country with the highest percentage in this region, 1 in 6 women surveyed said they believe a husband is justified in beating his wife. That’s still a very high proportion.



What are the patterns in Africa?

African countries dominate the high end of the graph, so let’s look at Africa in more detail. Here’s a choropleth map of the continent.


What does this map tell us? Sadly, not much. There don’t seem to be any geographic concentrations of high- or low-percentage countries. (An exception is southern Africa, but with so few countries, I’m hesitant to draw conclusions.)

What are some other patterns to explore? One of them is wealthThe Economist ran a graph on a portion of the dataset I’m using that included figures on the richest and poorest quintiles. The poorest quintile was consistently more inclined to believe that violence was justified.

I suspect that wealth is merely correlative, and that the “real” reason for the differences is cultural, which is so complex that it’s difficult to explore with data.

So, even though I don’t have an answer to “Why?” I do have an answer to “Where?” That’s a start.

6 thoughts on “Internalised misogyny around the world: Where women think it’s acceptable to beat your wife

    1. A quick Google search shows that about 59% of Albanians identify as Muslim. Excellent guess, Liam!

      If we compare to Albania’s neighbours, we get:
      -Montenegro: 20%
      -Bosnia and Herzegovina: 50%
      -Macedonia: 33%

      Bosnia is the only other country with a majority-Muslim population. Without going into a full analysis, it seems like religion — or the cultural differences associated with it — may play a role. It’s something worth investigating further.


  1. You’ll need to do more than link to an activist website with a vested interest in the matter to convincingly argue that “Violence against women is extensive, even in developed countries like Canada”, and I am being very polite here. It’s a cheap shot which does not reflect well on the author. But I’ll help you get you started:

    Nice data but – and this is fair since you took a cheap shot at Canada – you don’t have a clue what to do with it, and you admit as much. Much of the Africa data can be explained by Bantu expansion. Thanks for coming out.

    1. AA — Let me start off by apologising. I didn’t intend for the introduction of my post to look like a cheap shot at Canada. I’m from Canada, and have lived here most of my life, so it’s the country I use as my “baseline” for making cultural comparisons. It didn’t occur to me that it would look like I was denigrating Canada. I’ll try to be more mindful in the future.

      Now, to address the two points you raise in your comments: (1) the lack of support for claiming that violence against women is extensive in Canada and (2) the lack of an explanation for the high percentages in Africa.

      As for point (1), I disagree that the link I provided doesn’t provide sufficient support for the claim that violence against women is extensive in Canada. I think it provides an excellent, accessible summary of the issue. The page linked to provides information on violence against women with 65 specifically-cited sources. Twenty-six of those sources are Statistics Canada, including the very report you reference in your comment.

      As for point (2), I don’t know much about Bantu expansion, but it sounds like an interesting avenue to explore. Do you have any resources you think would be helpful?

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