Wife-Beating Still Accepted by Majority of Women in Ethiopia, New Study Finds

Addis Ababa, August 28, 2017- A new report by the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency (CSA) finds that the perception of women towards taking a beating has changed over the past five years. However, this year’s report indicates that there is still a lot to be done because the majority of women surveyed still agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife.

The report – released last week as part of CSA’s census under Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHs) – was comprised of a nationally representative sample of 15,683 women ages 15-49, and 12,688 men ages 15-59 in 16,650 selected households.

The report states that 63% of women and 28% of men agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife. This is, however, lower than the number from the same report in 2011, which found that two out of three women (or 68% of women surveyed), agreed that men were justified in their physical abuse towards their wives.

According to indicators of the report, a husband is justified in beating his wife for at least one of the following reasons: if she burns food while cooking, if she argues with her husband, if she goes out without telling her husband, if she neglects their children, or if she refuses to have sex with her husband.

“Both women and men are also most likely to agree that wife beating is justified if the wife neglects the children amounting to 48% and 19%, respectively”, states the 2016 report.

The proportion of women who believe that wife-beating is justified for at least one of the specified situations, nonetheless, has also declined from 81% in the 2005 EDHs. This trend suggests that Ethiopian women are less likely to accept wife-beating than in the past.


Domestic violence is common in Ethiopia, in both urban and rural families. When a society tolerates and accepts violence against women, its eradication is more difficult. The government of Ethiopia revised its family law in 2000, as well as its criminal law in 2005 to protect the rights of women and children and to promote gender equality and equity.

There are various reports indicating that the acceptance of physical abuse by husbands towards their wives inversely correlates with education and wealth, according to a psychiatrist at the Addis Ababa University.

“Women with no education are more than three times as likely as women with more than secondary education to agree with at least one specified justification for wife-beating”, he suggests.

“In addition to adverse physical health outcomes, this form of violence lowers a woman’s self-esteem and her image in society, leading to her disempowerment. Even though the change is plausible, we still need to teach everyone about equality. Acceptance of this practice reflects the backwardness of everyone who believes in this perception”.

According to World Health Organisation, all violence against women has serious consequences for their mental and physical well-being, including their reproductive and sexual health. Wife-beating is a form of physical violence that particularly degrades women. It is also a violation of women’s human rights. Worldwide, abuse by a husband is one of the most common forms of violence against women.

The 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey (EDHs) is the fourth Demographic and Health Survey conducted in Ethiopia. It was implemented by the CSA at the request of the Ministry of Health (MoH). Data collection took place from January 18, 2016 to June 27, 2016.

The primary objective of the 2016 EDHs project is to provide up-to-date estimates of key demographic and health indicators. The EDHs project collected data on knowledge and prevalence of fistula and female genital cutting or mutilation among women 15-49 years of age, as well as their daughters’ ages 0-14 years, and obtained data on women’s experiences of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

The report’s coverage of physical, sexual and domestic violence in detail is as follows:

Experience of Physical Violence

Nearly one-quarter of Ethiopian women, (23%) have ever experienced physical violence since age 15. In the past year, 15% of women have experienced physical violence. The most common perpetrator of physical violence among ever-married women is a current husband/partner (68%). Among never-married women, the most common perpetrator of physical violence is a sister/brother (27%).

Experience of Sexual Violence

1 in 10 women has at least once in their life, experienced sexual violence, with seven percent having experienced sexual violence in the past year. Divorced/separated/widowed women are most at risk for physical abuse by men, (18%), compared to never-married women (two percent). The most common perpetrator of sexual violence among ever-married women is a current husband/partner (69%).

Domestic Violence

More than one-third of ever-married women have experienced spousal violence, whether physical or sexual or emotional. Twenty-seven per cent of ever-married women report having experienced spousal violence within the past year. Spousal violence is highest among ever-married women who are divorced/separated/widowed, at44%; those with no education at 36%; and those from the Oromia region at 38%.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Nearly all women and men have heard of FGM/C in Ethiopia. According to the report, knowledge of FGM/C steadily increases with increased levels of education.

In Ethiopia, 65% of women have been circumcised. Among these women, the most common type of FGM/C involves the cutting and removal of flesh (73%). FGM/C is more common among women from rural areas than urban areas, (68pc and 54% respectively). Regionally, FGM/C is least common in Tigray (24%) and Gambella (33%), and more common in Afar (91%) and Somali (99%).

FGM/C has declined since 2000, from 80% of women in 2000 to 74% in 2005, to the current level of 65% in 2016.


In Ethiopia, FGM/C is performed throughout childhood. Women are most likely to report circumcision occurred before age five (49%), while 22% are circumcised between ages 5-9 years, 18% between the ages of 10-14 years, and six percent are 15 years-old or older.

Girls and women interviewed in the 2016 EDHS who had daughters under age 15 were asked if their daughters are circumcised. Overall, 16% of girls under the age 15 years were reported to be circumcised. FGM/C is more common among girls in rural areas whose mothers have no education (17%), and whose mothers are circumcised (20%).

Attitudes toward FGM/C show that one-quarter of women and 17% of men believe that FGM/C is required by their religion. Overall, 79% of women and 87% of men believe that the practice should not be continued.