Most Women in Afghanistan Justify Domestic Violence

(September 2012) While instances of violence against women in Afghanistan have been widely reported, new nationally representative survey findings show that its acceptance is pervasive, even among women.

The UNICEF-supported survey examined women’s attitudes toward domestic violence as part of a larger study on maternal and child health. Women were asked a series of questions posing scenarios, or reasons, under which a husband would hit or beat his wife.

Overall, 92 percent of women in Afghanistan feel that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife for at least one of these reasons: going out without telling the husband, neglecting the children, arguing with the husband, refusing sex, and burning the food. Seventy-eight percent of women believe that going out without telling the husband is justification for beating, while 31 percent think the same about burning the food.

This same list of reasons has been used by the Demographic and Health Surveys in dozens of countries worldwide to measure attitudes toward domestic violence. The Afghanistan survey added an additional question to reflect local attitudes—wearing inappropriate clothes. Sixty-three percent of Afghan women feel a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife if she wears inappropriate clothing.

Women’s acceptance of wife beating in Afghanistan is much higher than in other countries in the region: 54 percent in India; 36 percent in Bangladesh; and 23 percent in Nepal. Women’s level of education clearly has an effect on attitudes toward domestic violence (see table). In India, 62 percent of women with no education accept domestic violence compared with 31 percent of those with secondary education or higher. In Afghanistan, 82 percent of all women have no education.


Percent of Women Who Approve of a Husband Beating His Wife for a Specific Reason, by Education Level

Country No Education Secondary or Higher
Afghanistan (2010-11) 94 79
India (2005-06) 62 31
Bangladesh (2007) 36 26
Nepal (2006) 25 16

Sources: UNICEF, Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys; and ICF Macro, Demographic and Health Surveys.

Younger women and wealthier women in Afghanistan are slightly less accepting of husbands’ violence in Afghanistan. Among women ages 15 to 19, as well as women in the richest fifth of the population, 85 percent believe a husband is justified in beating his wife. Among never-married women, the proportion is 83 percent. Nearly half of all women ages 20 to 49 in Afghanistan were married by age 18.

Along with attitudes toward domestic violence, the survey linked women’s level of education to many measures of well-being for mothers and children. Specifically, children of Afghan women with education are less likely to die in infancy and childhood, more likely to be immunized, and more likely to complete primary school than children whose mothers had no education. Among Afghan women, those who had attended school are more likely to use a method of contraception and have adequate prenatal care than their peers with no education. However, among Afghan women ages 15 to 24 who reported completing primary school, only 29 percent are literate, according to the survey.

The Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey was carried out in 2010-2011 by UNICEF and the Afghan government’s statistical agency; it is one of a number of similar national surveys facilitated in countries worldwide by UNICEF.


Donna Clifton is a communications specialist in International Programs at the Population Reference Bureau.