Violence against women is widely accepted as a human rights violation and public health concern [1, 2]. The most common form of violence against women is that perpetrated by men towards their female partners, and prevalence estimates suggest that globally, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner (generally defined as a current or former spouse or cohabiting partner) in their lifetime .
Partner violence against women is more prevalent in patriarchal societies and research on associated risk factors is commonly framed within the context of unequal power relations that emphasise men’s and women’s roles, and assert men’s dominance over women [4, 5]. These gendered inequalities are theorised to be products of broader structural systems—political (e.g. lack of gender responsive policy making), legal (e.g. inadequate provision of legal and social services), and economic (e.g. unequal access to education, economic resources and employment opportunities)—that reinforce the disadvantaged status of women at both the community and the individual levels [6, 7].
Since the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2000–2003 multi-country study on domestic violence and women’s health (WHO study) [1, 8], there has been an expansion of studies that have explored, besides prevalence and patterns of violence, male and female factors and their associations with partner violence against women. These studies have advanced understanding about the role of, in particular, individual level factors on gender relations and the mechanisms through which these factors shape women’s risk of partner violence.
Poverty or low household socio-economic status (SES) has been consistently found to be associated with higher rates of partner violence against women in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) and in high income settings [9,10,11,12]. In a systematic review of published evidence from LMIC, in fifteen out of sixteen settings, household wealth (measured by ownership of durable assets) was found to have a protective association with women’s risk of past year physical or sexual violence, although, this association was significant in only eight settings and highlights that household wealth is not universally protective . Early theories, family stress theory, argued that the inherent stress of poverty is the mediating factor that leads men to be violent towards their wives and female partners . Poverty stress is further intensified in settings where ideals of successful manhood firmly place men to be the household’s main provider . In such settings, limited or poor employment options for men may then lead to feelings of anxiety and despair and a crisis of male identity ensues. In some LMIC, including in Tanzania, it has been observed that feelings of economic disempowerment among men has resulted in a reshaping of masculine ideals that involve the excessive use of alcohol and relationships with other women, both of which have been found to significantly increase women’s risk of violence [5, 13,14,15,16,17].
The concept of successful manhood brings to the fore the tandem notion of “successful womanhood” that traditionally lay in reproductive responsibilities such as bearing children and especially sons, as well as in maintaining family values and family harmony [18, 19]. Transgressions of good or appropriate wifely behaviour include women’s use of alcohol, relationships with other men and displays of autonomy. While aspects of women’s empowerment such as education, economic independence and ownership of capital assets have been found to be protective in some settings, it has been found to have a risk association in others [9, 20]. Within the context of poverty, women’s financial contributions can ease financial stresses within households. A competing view, relative resource theory, however, asserts that economic (e.g. employment or income) or status (e.g. educational attainment) differentials that favour women over men increases a woman’s risk of violence because of challenges to established gender norms [21, 22]. So if a woman is working when her husband or male partner is not, then this may confer a risk onto women if this unequal status fuels men’s feelings of inadequacy [5, 21].
Another factor that has the effect to disadvantage women is early or other forms of abuse. Women’s early experience of violence (either childhood violence or witnessing their mother being beaten) may reinforce notions of inferiority and acceptance of abuse by a partner . By contrast, men who witness violence towards their mothers or who were beaten themselves as children are more likely to become perpetrators of violence [17, 23, 24].
Tanzania has experienced steady economic growth as indicated by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which measured 7% (in 2016), a figure that has remained stable in the last decade . By development indicators, the country made notable progress towards achieving the millennium development goal related to gender equality. By 2016 37% of national parliamentary seats were held by women , and in 2012 the ratio of girls to boys enrolled in primary school was almost parity (0.984), however, secondary schooling enrolment rate lagged behind (0.514) .
Despite this progress, Tanzania’s GDP per capita of $879US (in 2016) classifies the country as low income and the last poverty headcount ratio revealed that over one-quarter (28.2%) of its population live below the national poverty line (in 2011) . Further, it remains a patriarchal society and high gender inequality continues to exist—with a gender inequality index score of 0.539 (in 2017), the country ranks 130 out of 159 . Over two-thirds (68%) of Tanzania’s population reside in rural areas with small-scale agriculture the predominant livelihood for both men and women . In addition to domestic duties, a very high proportion of women are engaged in productive work outside of the household, principally subsistence agricultural work in small farms (shamba) [25, 28].
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Tanzania embarked on a series of structural economic reforms, the effects of which led to rapid social changes . Increasing numbers of men migrated from their natal home in search of employment opportunities that led to women taking on new roles such as responsibilities as the head of the household and seeking paid work [13, 30,31,32]. Social norms, however, continue to govern that men are the head of the household and the main family breadwinner, and women, whose responsibilities are familial, rely on their husbands for household needs [33,34,35]. As men faced increasing work insecurity and uncertain incomes, evidence began to emerge (in Dar es Salaam (DSM) and rural Kilosa, Morogoro Region) of men’s hostility towards women’s engagement in income earning activities [13, 35]. As women began to take on greater financial responsibilities, such as feeding the family, men began to retreat from theirs [13, 32]. In DSM high rates of abandoned women; extra-marital relationships; excessive drinking (among men) and frequent occurrence of aggression and violence between men and women were observed .
Prevalence estimates from the most recent (2015) Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) confirms that partner violence against women is high—46.2% of ever-married women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their current or most recent partner in their lifetime; 29.6% in the past 12 months —and is comparable to estimates from the 2010 Tanzania DHS when 43.6% of ever-married women (ages 15–49) reported they had experienced physical or sexual partner violence; 36.8% in the past 12 months .
While it is widely acknowledged that studies need to explore factors relating to both the woman and the man and the dynamics between them, often men’s characteristics are provided from the perspective of the woman. Using “matched couples” data from the 2015 Tanzania DHS, the objective of this study is to explore what factors are associated with women’s risk of past year partner violence.