Context: Although the pervasiveness of domestic violence against women in Bangladesh is well documented, specific risk factors, particularly those that can be affected by policies and programs, are not well understood.
Methods: In 2001-2002, surveys, in-depth interviews and small group discussions were conducted with married women from six Bangladeshi villages to examine the types and severity of domestic violence, and to explore the pathways through which women's social and economic circumstances may influence their vulnerability to violence in marriage. Women's odds of experiencing domestic violence in the past year were assessed by logistic regression analysis.
Results: Of about 1,200 women surveyed, 67% had ever experienced domestic violence, and 35% had done so in the past year. According to the qualitative findings, participants expected women with more education and income to be less vulnerable to domestic violence; they also believed (or hoped) that having a dowry or a registered marriage could strengthen a women's position in her marriage. Yet, of these potential factors, only education was associated with significantly reduced odds of violence; meanwhile, the odds were increased for women who had a dowry agreement or had personal earnings that contributed more than nominally to the marital household. Women strongly supported educating their daughters, but pressures remain to marry them early, in part to avoid high dowry costs.
Conclusions: In rural Bangladesh, women's social and economic circumstances may influence their risk of domestic violence in complex and contradictory ways. Findings also suggest a disconnect between women's emerging expectations and their current realities.