Gender, women and health

Coping and responding to intimate-partner violence

Leaving or staying with a violent partner

As shown in Figure 16, between 19% and 51% of women who had been physically abused by their partner had ever left overnight for at least one night. Between 8% and 21% reported leaving 2–5 times. Again there is a strong relationship between leaving and the severity of physical violence. The severity of the violence was, indeed, the main reason given for leaving (the woman could not endure more, she was badly injured, or her partner had threatened or tried to kill her).

In most settings, women who left home mainly reported going to their relatives, and to a lesser extent to friends or neighbours. However, in Namibia, and in the provincial sites in Bangladesh and the United Republic of Tanzania, between 10% and 16% of women who had left at least once reported staying with their partner’s family the last time they left. Shelters were mentioned only in urban Brazil and Namibia and in these sites only very few times (by less than 1% of women who left). Again, these patterns are likely to reflect both the availability of places of safety for women and their children, and culturally specific factors relating to the acceptability of women leaving, or staying anywhere without their partner.

"So I take a blanket and I spend the night with my children out in the cold because he is hitting me too much and I have to take the kids to stop him hitting them too. I would go up the mountain, and sleep there all night. I’ve done that more than ten times."
-Woman interviewed in provincial Peru

In all settings a large proportion (between 43% and 90%) of women who had left reported as reasons for leaving that they “could not endure more” or because the violence had become very severe. For example, in Namibia and the provincial settings in Peru and the United Republic of Tanzania, more than 20% left because they were badly injured. In provincial Brazil, Namibia, and both settings in Peru, over 10% reported that their partner had threatened to kill them.

Why do women return?

There was wide variation between settings in the reasons women gave for returning home to a partner who had abused them. Women frequently reported returning home because they could not leave the children, or “for the sake of the family”. Other reasons were that the woman loved her partner, that he asked her to come back, that she forgave him or thought he would change, or because the family said she should return. Women who never left gave similar reasons, as well as indicating that they did not know where to go.

"I did not know where I could go for help. Now I know where I can go. I was looking for such places. It is good to address these types of issues in a survey."
-Woman interviewed in Japan