Infertility, and fertility, put Tanzanian women at risk

Study finds women with one to four kids are safest from abuse.

Published November 23, 2005 2:11PM (EST)

In urban Moshi, Tanzania, women are damned if they don't, damned if they do. According to an article by Laura Ann McCloskey et al. in the Guttmacher Institute's latest issue of International Family Planning Perspectives, women who can't bear children are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused by their partners as women with children. Women with up to four children, that is. After that, the violence risk spikes highest of all: Women with five or more children were found to have two and a half times the odds of experiencing abuse. The authors write: "Women are blamed for either having no children or having too many, and that blame may result in abuse. Furthermore, having many children establishes barriers to economic autonomy and creates the context for pronounced dependency and, ultimately, tolerance of violence." Speaking of which: "Partner violence is so commonplace in some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that it is accepted as justifiable by more than half of the women themselves, as in Zimbabwe."

Among the study's conclusions: "A dire need remains for research into the epidemiology of intimate partner violence throughout many neglected parts of Africa ... There is little awareness of intimate partner violence as an important health or social issue in Tanzania ... Few counselors or social workers are available in the country, much less social workers trained specifically in domestic violence. Further training is desperately needed in such fields."

In the same issue of IFPP: In "Gender Relations and Reproductive Decision Making In Honduras," authors Ilene S. Speizer et al. of the Centers for Disease Control found that 25 percent of women and 28 percent of men said that men alone should be responsible for deciding when or whether to have children. Also: "Fifteen percent of women said that men alone should not make the decisions on family size or family planning use, but that their own husband made at least one of those types of decisions." Among the conclusions: "Telling women to talk with their husbands about reproductive decision making would probably be unhelpful in places where prevailing gender norms do not encourage this type of communication." (Now, where have we heard that before?)

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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