Dying from hunger: food crisis fuels domestic violence
Researchers find a direct line between household food insecurity and domestic violence
Hunger is at the root of SA’s epidemic of domestic violence.
Household food insecurity was directly linked to domestic violence in a survey of almost 1,400 men and women in Durban informal settlements.
Reporting the results of their work, Medical Research Council scientists said food insecurity had “multiple impacts on young people’s lives, in turn increasing vulnerability to or perpetration of intimate partner violence”.
With around a third of South Africans experiencing continual hunger, a team from MRC gender and health research unit found “exceedingly high” levels of domestic violence among the 680 women and 677 men who completed cellphone questionnaires.
Two-thirds of the women reported experiencing intimate partner violence in the previous year, and half of the men said they had perpetrated it.
For women, the researchers’ analysis produced a direct line between household food insecurity and domestic violence, with those who admitted frequently borrowing money to buy food even more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted.
Men’s controlling behaviour and arguments between couples were other factors behind domestic violence, as well as mental health and substance abuse.
The researchers also identified a direct link between childhood trauma and men who admitted inflicting violence on their partners.
Andrew Gibbs, Rachel Jewkes and their fellow authors, whose study is published in the journal PLOS One, said food security had a far greater effect on women than men, and there were two potential reasons it could make them more susceptible to domestic violence.
“First, [it] may increases stress in relationships ... leading to the use of violence,” they said.
“Second, [it] may be a marker of women’s economic dependency, [which] leaves women unable to leave violent relationships.”
For men, the reasons they became violent were linked to their roles as providers, through which they “develop a sense of sexual entitlement that leads to [violence]”.
The researchers’ analysis also identified “resilience pathways” to reduce domestic violence. “Women and men with more education had more gender equitable attitudes, which reduced controlling behaviours and therefore [violence],” they said.
“Reducing food insecurity is critical for the promotion of more equitable societies and the reduction of intimate partner violence, but interventions to achieve this need to be combined with interventions that focus on supporting women and men to rethink gender relationships.”