Wife abuse

Other Names:
Battered women
Wife beaters

Wife beating is prevalent in all societies and crosscuts all racial, cultural and socio-economic lines. Despite its prevalence wife abuse is largely a secret crime: the legal system and the public see it as a private matter. Societies keep marital violence invisible because its existence contradicts the idealized image of the family as a haven for love, security and loyalty.


[Industrialized countries] In industrialized countries reports of wife beating are on the increase. The European Women's Lobby estimates that every three minutes, somewhere in Europe a woman is beaten. In the UK in 1989 a survey concluded that 28% of married women had been hit by their husbands and 33% had been either hit or threatened with physical violence. The proportion rises to 63% among women who were divorced or separated. In the USA it is said that one in three women are abused. 21% of the women who use hospital emergency services have been battered. More than 6 million women are beat each year, and 4,000 die as a result.

[Developing countries] In developing countries, especially in rural areas and in those cultures in which the male has a strongly dominant role, beating the wife has been considered the right of husbands. In Ecuador, it was reported that over 80% of women had been beaten by their partners. A study in the biggest slum in Bangkok found that 50% of married women are beaten regularly. Half of all divorce petitions in Bolivia cite violence as the primary cause. In Colombia there are no labour, civil or criminal laws covering domestic violence, sexual harassment or marital rape.

In Pakistan, 99% of housewives and 77% of working women are beaten by their husbands. Wife battering is consistently under-reported in Arab society. 446 Palestinian men engaged to be married had witnessed their mothers being beaten at least once a year; 50% at least once in a lifetime; and 3% saw or heard their fathers threatening their mothers with a knife, gun or other weapon. In another study, 54% of Palestinian men justified violence if their wives refused to have sex with them; another 47% justified violence if their wives did not respect their parents-in-law. Greater than 50% of abused victims return to their husbands, many rationalizing their predicament with the Arabic proverb that says "It is better to feel deprived and humiliated while nobody knows than to be humiliated while everybody knows".

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
17.10.2021 – 09:34 CEST