While rapid urbanization has been identified as an important driver of health risks faced by women in low- and middle-income countries, very few studies have examined how urbanization impacts violence against women. Even less work has explored how urbanization may impact violence against women in settings that have been impacted by widespread conflict and other humanitarian crises.
A new study, co-authored by Dr. Jhumka Gupta, assistant professor of global and community health and principal investigator of this work, explores how physical and social characteristics of urban, conflict-affected environments contribute to intimate partner violence against women in Abidjan, the most populous city in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The study was conducted in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee and is published in the Journal of Urban Health.
“Public health research on violence against women in conflict-affected settings is relatively new; however, growing research suggests that there is a link between widespread political violence and ‘private’ forms of violence, such as intimate partner violence. Most of this work, however, has been carried out in rural settings,” Gupta said.
Ten focus groups with men and women, comprised of both internally displaced people (those who had to flee their homes) and native residents of Abidjan, were held to examine perceptions of intimate partner violence against women, and how life in an urban setting may influence such experiences. Participants discussed challenges within the family and community during and after the most recent electoral crisis in the Ivory Coast from 2010 to 2012. Respondents spoke about their perceptions of these problems and were asked to talk more in-depth about violence and discrimination experienced by women who were affected by the conflict.
From the discussion groups, the authors found key structural factors specific to the urban environment that contributed to women’s exposures and experiences of intimate partner violence, including poverty and financial stress in Abidjan; changing roles and tensions between traditional and modern gender norms; lack of social support; poor housing infrastructure; food insecurity; and discrimination against internally displaced populations.
“While it is difficult to generalize our results beyond the respondents represented in our focus groups, our findings demonstrate the importance of gender-based discrimination, economic strain, and discrimination against internally displaced persons in driving intimate partner violence in conflict-affected, urban areas,” said Ms. Lauren Cardoso, PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study.
“A growing number of emergencies are and will be concentrated in urban areas. Humanitarian organizations must continue to strive to understand and meet the unique needs of women and girls in these contexts,” said Dr. Kathryn Falb, co-investigator of the study with the International Rescue Committee.
“These findings underscore the importance of future programs needing to challenge traditional gender roles, address economic empowerment, and tailor interventions for internally displaced, urban women. Such programs may also serve to be useful for promoting the health and safety of refugee and immigrant populations locally, in the Washington, DC metropolitan area,” Dr. Gupta added.
This study was funded by the United States Institute of Peace.