New Research Says Women’s Empowerment Can Be Met with Violent Backlash | Homes and Lifestyle

As rural communities urbanize across the world, researchers say, the status of women often improves. The education of girls and women is increasing and presents new opportunities for economic independence. The social changes that accompany it also lead to a reduction in family size and age gaps between spouses, changes generally associated with advances in women’s empowerment.

But a new study written by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggests that these improvements may come at a cost: a “backlash” from their husbands or partners.

Joseph Kilgallen, graduate student in anthropology and lead author of the study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, explained that violent reaction “refers to a particularly disturbing pattern of behavior that we observe across the world in which men respond to increasing women’s status / empowerment through violence as they attempt to maintain patriarchal control.

To examine intimate partner violence (IPV) in this context, Kilgallen and her co-authors interviewed married couples in a village in the Mwanza region of northwestern Tanzania. Men and women were interviewed separately on a number of topics, including the woman’s personal experience with IPV, her husband’s tolerance for IPV, education level, income and more.

“We found results consistent with a backlash,” Kilgallen said. “As the wives’ education level and income approached or exceeded that of her husband, she was at a relatively higher risk of experiencing IPV, and her husband tolerated the use of IPV under certain circumstances. “

The study also tested the effect of family networks on IPV. Almost 95% of the inhabitants of the Mwanza region belong to the Sukuma ethnic group, traditionally cattle herders. They are also patrilocal – the wife usually settles in (or around) her husband’s family after marriage. But as the region becomes urbanized, more and more couples are living far from their family networks.

“A move away from the patrilocal residence has been argued to improve women’s autonomy, as the husband’s family has less potential to control a woman’s behavior,” Kilgallen said. “However, we found evidence that in couples who had less interaction with the husband’s parents, wives were at greater risk for IPV and their husbands tolerated IPV.

“We found similar results for women of relatively close age to their husbands, which has become more common in recent years. Overall, this suggests that the economic and social changes that accompany urbanization put women at risk of violence while men respond to their improved status. . “

As the document notes, IPV is common around the world. In the Mwanza region, around 60% of women report having experienced some form of it in their lifetime. Yet, as the team has already established, some men are supporting efforts towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, which Kilgallen calls a sign of potential progress.

“I see this as promising news for the future,” he said. “If these men become agents of change in their communities, they can begin to deconstruct nefarious normative ideas around masculinity and how to resolve marital conflict, thus creating a new path forward. “

It probably won’t be easy or quick. Kilgallen notes that work to increase women’s empowerment can often come up against deep-rooted gender norms and entrenched patriarchal structures.

“I believe that the empowerment of women and gender equality are two of the most critical goals for all nations,” he said. “But for these efforts to be successful, they must also work to protect women from potential reaction effects.”

The project is part of an ongoing collaboration with researchers from the Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research. David Lawson, associate professor of anthropology at UCSB and director of the campus’s Applied Evolutionary Anthropology lab, underscored the team’s gratitude to study participants.

“This study would not have been possible without the support of the local community,” Lawson said. “By sharing information on these difficult topics, they offered new insight into an unfortunate trend that likely characterizes many similar communities.”

As a result, Kilgallen said: “Initiatives to advance women’s empowerment must be carefully designed and aware that change rarely comes without resistance. We must work to change the nefarious gender norms that legitimize male control and the use of violence against women, as well as to target the broader patriarchal structures that allow these behaviors and ideologies to persist without consequence.

Kilgallen intends to explore these themes further with his doctoral work, focusing on understanding the barriers and pathways to changing gender norms for young men.

Additional co-authors are Susan B. Schaffnit, Anthony Galura and Lawson of UCSB; and Yusufu Kumogola and Mark Urassa from the National Institute of Medical Research, Mwanza, Tanzania.

Mara R. Wilmoth