Behind the silence of harmony: Risk factors for physical and sexual violence among women in rural Indonesia

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



BMC Women's Health






Background: Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world. Few studies have identified the risk factors of Indonesian women for domestic violence. Such research will be useful for the development of prevention programs aiming at reducing domestic violence. Our study examines associations between physical and sexual violence among rural Javanese Indonesian women and sociodemographic factors, husband's psychosocial and behavioral characteristics and attitudes toward violence and gender roles.Methods: A cohort of pregnant women within the Demographic Surveillance Site (DSS) in Purworejo district, Central Java, Indonesia, was enrolled in a longitudinal study between 1996 and 1998. In the following year (1999), a cross-sectional domestic violence household survey was conducted with 765 consenting women from that cohort. Female field workers, trained using the WHO Multi-Country study instrument on domestic violence, conducted interviews. Crude and adjusted odds ratios at 95% CI were applied for analysis.Results: Lifetime exposure to sexual and physical violence was 22% and 11%. Sexual violence was associated with husbands' demographic characteristics (less than 35 years and educated less than 9 years) and women's economic independence. Exposure to physical violence among a small group of women (2-6%) was strongly associated with husbands' personal characteristics; being unfaithful, using alcohol, fighting with other men and having witnessed domestic violence as a child. The attitudes and norms expressed by the women confirm that unequal gender relationships are more common among women living in the highlands and being married to poorly educated men. Slightly more than half of the women (59%) considered it justifiable to refuse coercive sex. This attitude was also more common among financially independent women (71%), who also had a higher risk of exposure to sexual violence.Conclusions: Women who did not support the right of women to refuse sex were more likely to experience physical violence, while those who justified hitting for some reasons were more likely to experience sexual violence. Our study suggests that Javanese women live in a high degree of gender-based subordination within marriage relationships, maintained and reinforced through physical and sexual violence. Our findings indicate that women's risk of physical and sexual violence is related to traditional gender norms. © 2011 Hayati et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.