Gender, women and health

Coping and responding to intimate-partner violence

Do women fight back?

The proportion of physically abused women reporting that they fought back against their partners varied greatly between settings, from 6% in provincial Bangladesh to 79% in urban Brazil. In eight of the 15 settings (Japan, Serbia and Montenegro, and both the urban and provincial sites in Brazil, Peru, and Thailand) more than half of the physically abused women reported having fought back. In all settings, the likelihood of doing so was higher among women who had experienced severe physical violence than those who had experienced moderate physical violence.

As explained earlier, the WHO Study did not directly address the question of violence perpetrated against men by their female partners. However, all physically abused women were asked if they had initiated violence against a partner when he was not already physically abusing her. Only in Thailand did more than 15% of ever physically abused women report initiating violence against their partner more than twice in their lifetime. The proportion was especially low in more traditional societies. In provincial Bangladesh and Ethiopia, less than 1% of physically abused women reported ever initiating violence against a partner. These findings mirror results from the Demographic and Health Surveys in other countries (23).