This paper examines how displacement and conflict-related abuses are associated with intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual violence towards women in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The analysis draws on data from a large survey conducted for the Tushinde Ujeuri program, a five-year USAID-funded program supporting prevention and responses to gender-based violence in Eastern DRC. The survey sampled 4,223 respondents in 192 villages, and asked questions about victimization and perpetration of IPV and sexual violence. In this paper, the authors restrict their analysis to the female respondents, who numbered 2,120.
For the IPV analysis, the analysis focuses on women who previously/currently had partners, and who answered questions about their experiences of IPV. Women who had experienced IPV in the 12 months prior to the survey were compared with women who had never experienced IPV. For the sexual violence analysis, women who experienced sexual violence in the 12 months prior to the survey were compared to women who had never experienced sexual violence. Respondents were also asked questions to assess their experience of displacement and exposure to conflict abuses.
Respondents on average were 32 years old, with nearly all (94 percent) reporting having dependents at home. Just 25 percent of respondents stated they were the head of the household, and only 41 percent had any formal education. Women reported whether they were single (15 percent), married or cohabitating (61 percent), in a polygamous marriage (7 percent), or divorced/widowed (16 percent). Across the sample 52 percent of respondents reported having been displaced. More than half of the women in the sample had experienced IPV (57 percent), of whom nearly three-quarters (73 percent) had experienced IPV in the previous year. 20 percent of the women in the sample reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime, and 15 percent reported experiencing sexual violence in the past year.
Key findings on risk factors for IPV:
- Displacement is significantly associated with both lifetime and past-year IPV. Women who had been displaced were 8-10 percent more likely to have also experienced IPV during their lifetime, and 9-12 percent more likely to have experienced IPV in the year prior to the survey. Several factors were found to increase the risk of both lifetime and past-year IPV including: previous experiences of sexual violence; being in a polygamous union; having more children under the age of 18 in the household; having a father who was violent to the respondent’s mother; and having a partner who uses drugs or alcohol. However, a higher wealth score and being head of household were found to be protective factors.
- Experiences of displacement are associated with an increased risk of IPV—current displacement increases risk of IPV nearly twofold more than former displacement. The risk of IPV among currently displaced women was nearly twice as high as the risk of IPV among formerly displaced women, but experiences of displacement in the past continued to impact women’s risk of current IPV. Women who were formerly displaced have a 9 percent higher risk of lifetime IPV and 11 percent higher risk of past-year IPV, while women who are currently displaced have a 15 percent higher risk of lifetime IPV and a 20 percent higher risk of past-year IPV.
- Experiences of war-related abuses by armed groups are significantly associated with both lifetime and past-year IPV. Women who experienced at least one war-related abuse had a 10-12 percent higher risk of lifetime IPV and 12-14 percent higher risk of past-year IPV.
- Displacement and experiences of war-related abuses each independently increases risk of lifetime and past-year IPV. Having been displaced at any point increases a woman’s risk of lifetime and past-year IPV by 6 percent and experiencing war abuses increased risk of lifetime IPV by 9 percent.
Key findings on risk factors for sexual violence:
- Armed actors are not the most common perpetrators of sexual violence in the sample population, even though the survey was conducted in conflict-affected areas. Less than 10 percent of the perpetrators were armed actors. Women were far more likely to experience abuse at the hands of acquaintances, family members and people in their community.
- Displacement is significantly associated with both lifetime and past-year sexual violence. Women who have experienced displacement are 9-10 percent more likely to experience sexual violence at some point in their lives and 6-8 percent more likely to experience past year sexual violence.
- Experiences of war-related abuses by armed groups are significantly associated with both lifetime and past-year sexual violence. Women who experienced any type of war-related abuse, compared to women who experienced no abuses, were 9 percent more likely to experience lifetime sexual violence and 8 percent more likely to experience this abuse in the past year. Older age and being married were protective, while being employed, having an abusive father and having a partner who uses drugs or alcohol were risk factors.
- Displacement and experiences of war-related abuses each independently increases risk of lifetime and past-year sexual violence. Each risk factor increases a woman’s risk of lifetime sexual violence by 6 percent even after adjusting for other risk factors.
The results demonstrate that war-affected women, and particularly those who are displaced, are more likely to have experienced multiple forms of gender-based violence. Abuses are not only perpetrated by armed actors, but by civilians, including family members. The authors argue that the correlation between experience of conflict-related abuses and gender-based violence suggests that post-conflict programming provides an opportunity to “short circuit cycle of violence and to address its consequences for war-affected women.”