Violence against women: a cross-cultural analysis for Africa

Alberto Alesina; Benedetta Brioschi; Eliana La Ferrara

Using a new dataset, we investigate violence against women inAfrica. We focus on cultural factors arising from pre-colonial customsand show that these factors determined social norms about genderroles, family structures and intra-family violence, which persisted evenwhen the initial conditions change. A first set of ancestral character-istics relates to women’s economic role: ethnic groups where womenparticipated less in production (e.g., due to plough agriculture, hus-bandry or fishing) have higher levels of violence against women today,and more acceptance of it. A second set of ancestral characteristicspertains to marriage patterns and living arrangements. Endogamy andco-residence with the husband’s family are strongly positively associ-ated with both the level and the acceptance of domestic violence. Wealso uncover a sizeable gender gap in attitudes towards violence, withwomen being more likely to justify violence compared to men. Thisgap is predicted by differences in demographic characteristics and byancestral characteristics, such as co-residence with the husband’s fam-ily and the use of the plough. Our analysis sheds light on the origin,and long term persistence, of gender norms conducive to gender based violence.