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Men’s perpetration of violence against women and girls and what it means for the prevention of gender-based violence

25 Sep 2013
Partners for Prevention: A UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV regional joint programme for gender-based violence prevention in Asia and the Pacific

Violence against women and girls is prevalent in every corner of the globe but recently the world’s media has turned its spotlight on the Asia-Pacific region after the rape of young woman in New Delhi in December 2012. Holding more than half of the world’s population, it is not surprising that the Asia-Pacific region has particularly diverse rates of violence, with between 15% of women in Japan to 68% of women in the Kiribati reporting having ever experienced physical and/or sexual partner violence (Garcia-Moreno et al., 2005, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2010). Throughout the region, rape, defined as forced or coerced sex, most frequently occurs within marriage. Studies found that 12% of women in China and a quarter of women in eastern India reported having ever experienced sexual abuse, including rape, by their husband (Chan, 2007, Babu and Kar, 2010). Similarly, over a fifth of women in Indonesia reported ever experiencing sexual partner violence and 12% said they had been sexually abused in the past year (Hayati et al., 2011).

There has been less research conducted on men’s reports of perpetration of partner violence and rape than there has been of women’s experiences of violence. Population-based studies with men globally have found a prevalence of ever physical partner violence perpetration ranging from 22% in eastern India to 42% in South Africa (Babu and Kar, 2010, Jewkes et al., 2011), and perpetration of non-partner rape of women reveals a prevalence ranging from 9% in Chile to 37% in South Africa (Barker et al., 2011, Machisa et al., 2011, Jewkes et al., 2011, Senn et al., 2000, Abbey et al., 2006, Tsai et al., 2011).

Our knowledge of perpetration of violence against women and girls (VAWG) globally has been limited by differences in research design and methods, making comparison of findings between settings difficult. Furthermore, despite decades of work and the commitment of many, leading to some significant advances in awareness, laws and policies to end violence against women, we have not seen an overall decrease in the prevalence of violence against women and girls. Until now, efforts to address violence against women and girls have, for the most part, rightly focused on improving services and responses to violence: strengthening legislation and the criminal justice system overall, particularly to end impunity, and improving access and quality of health, legal and social services. However, responding to the effects of violence alone cannot stop all new occurrences from taking place.

Led by the belief that violence is preventable, four UN agencies - UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV - came together through the joint programme, Partners for Prevention (P4P) to try to better understand men’s use of violence in order to stop it before it starts. Since the key starting point for sound prevention strategies and interventions begins with reliable and relevant context-specific data, P4P launched the UN Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in 2010.

The study aims to:

- deepen understandings of men’s use of different forms of violence against women (specifically intimate partner violence and non-partner rape) in the Asia-Pacific region;
- assess men’s own experiences of violence, as well as their perpetration of violence against other men, and how it relates to perpetration of violence against women;
- identify factors associated with men’s perpetration of different forms violence against women; and
- promote evidence-based policies and programmes to prevent violence against women.

A population-based quantitative survey was conducted with over 10,000 men and 3,000 women1 from nine sites across six countries in the region (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Bougainville, Papua New Guinea) on their use and experiences of violence, gender attitudes and practices and other life experiences. This provides the largest cross-country comparable data set focused on men’s perpetration of violence against women in the Asia-Pacific region - a significant contribution to the evidence base to inform more effective violence prevention programmes and policies.

The Study draws on the experiences and tools of a number of other important studies including the Medical Research Council’s Men’s Health and Relationships Study2, the Men and Gender Equality Policy Project (particularly the International Men and Gender Equality Survey, IMAGES)3, and the WHO MCS.


The study was developed and coordinated by Partners for Prevention in collaboration with the Medical Research Council of South Africa and the research teams in each country. A Technical Advisory Group of renowned experts on VAW and masculinities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) advised on the methodology. A Regional Steering Committee with representatives from each study site made high-level decisions on data analysis and ethical standards. The national study teams comprised a research institution or government agency with experience in population surveys, and a UN agency or civil society organization that provided funding and coordination. To support the implementation and dissemination of the study, countries established national working groups - including government stakeholders, civil society representatives, UN representatives and researchers.

To ensure data comparability across sites the study used a standardized structured questionnaire, which drew from the South African Medical Research Council’s Men’s Health and Relationships Study, the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women and the International Men and Gender Equality Survey.

Face-to-face interviews were conducted in the local language using Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to enter data. The most sensitive questions on sexual violence perpetration and other criminal behaviour were self-administered using the audio-enhanced function of the PDAs.

In all sites, a representative sample of men aged 18-49 years was obtained from households using a multi-stage cluster sampling strategy. Clusters were randomly selected with probability proportionate to size, which resulted in an approximate self-weighting sample. Where households had multiple eligible men, one was randomly selected. There was no replacement of absent or non-responding households or individuals. In total, 10,178 men aged 18-49 were interviewed from nine sites across six countries in the region.

Preliminary findings and relevance for work with children

The findings of the study will be released in September 2013, however preliminary analysis is already highlighting the importance of this study for violence prevention programming. The study found that rates of perpetration of violence against women in the region are generally high, however, the rates and patterns vary significantly across sites. This suggests there is a strong need to know the pattern of violence in a specific context in order to be able to develop and implement targeted and effective interventions.

Preliminary findings also suggest that experiences of abuse and neglect during childhood are common for boys as well as girls, and that boys’ experiences of such abuse are strongly correlated with perpetration of violence later in life. This highlights the need for school-based intervention, positive parenting programmes and increased psychosocial support services for children, including boys. The Study will also provide comprehensive information on the long-term consequences of child abuse. Initial analysis suggests that depression, suicidal ideation, antisocial behavior, alcohol abuse and drug use are all more common among boys who experienced abuse during childhood.

Other findings are pointing towards the fact that violence perpetration, including rape, starts early in life and that we need to work more systematically with young people on building healthy and respectful relationships.

While preventing violence against women and girls is critical, in their early years boys too are vulnerable to many forms of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Nearly ten years ago the WHO estimated that rates of sexual violence among children in Asia and SE Asia were likely to be high given a series of contextual factors. At the time Andrews et al. (2004) estimated that such violence was nearly 27.8 percent among girls and even higher at 28.6 percent among boys. More recent data in the region confirms these findings acknowledging that in addition to preventing men (and boys) from perpetrating violence, young boys themselves need to be protected along with girls.


1. The focus of the survey was interviewing men, however a smaller sample of women were also interviewed in Cambodia, China, PNG and Sri Lanka to validate men’s reports and provide data on women’s experiences of violence where such data was limited. In countries where extensive research on violence against women had already been done with women (Bangladesh) or was planned for the near future (Indonesia and Cambodia are both doing a national prevalence study with women in 2013-2014) women were not interviewed to avoid duplication.

2. For more information on the MRC’s Men’s Health and Relationships Study, see:

3. For more information on the Men and Gender Equality Policy Project, see:

4. For more information on the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women, see:


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Babu, B. V. & Kar, S. K. 2010. Domestic violence in Eastern India: Factors associated with victimization and perpetration. Public Health 124, 136-148.

Barker G, Contreras M, Heilman B, Singh A, Verma R, Nascimento M. Evolving Men: Initial results from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey. Washington, DC: International Centre for Research on Women; 2011.

Chan, K. 2007. Sexual vilence against women and children in China. Pretoria: Sexual Violence Research Initiative.

Hayati E, Hogberg U, Hakimi M, Ellsberg MC, & Emmelin M. Behind the silence of harmony: risk factors for physical and sexual violence among women in rural Indonesia. MBMC Women's Health 2011; 11: 1-8.

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Machisa, M., Jewkes, R., Lowe-Morna, C. & Rama, K. 2011. The war at home. , Johannesburg, GenderLinks.

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Tsai Ac, Leiter K, Heisler M, Lacopino V, Wolfe W, Shannon K, Phaladze N, Hlanze Z & Weiser, S. 2011. Prevalence and correlates of forced sex perpetrtaion and victimisation in Botswana and Swaziland. American Journal of Public Health, 101, 1068-1074.