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PW 2890 Social norms and gender identities shaping women’s and community response to intimate partner violence: an ethnographic study of women in the rural eastern cape, south africa
  1. Nwabisa Shai1,2
  1. 1South African Medical Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa
  2. 2University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


The presentation aims to describe the dominant forms of IPV and explore how underlying social norms and notions of femininity influence women’s and community responses to IPV in the rural Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.

Twenty-six black women aged twenty seven to fifty three years living in the rural Eastern Cape province, South Africa, participated in the ethnographic study. Data were drawn from participant observations, two rounds of in-depth interviews collected, and focus group discussions. Thematic analysis was conducted following an inductive approach.

Male control over women and social norms ascribed to single and married women’s femininities shaped their experiences of and responses to IPV. Being married, unemployed and dependent on men for livelihood appeared to force women into silence about the violence they experienced. Reporting to the in-laws was common but often yielded little or no change, as did reporting to one’s natal family. Married women’s concerns about managing their husbands’ reputations often prevented them from laying charges against their husbands. Reporting to the police was rare and was perceived to be pariah and cruel by others in the community. Single women were more likely to report to the police than married women, and those who laid charges against abusive partners were vilified. Women in the community often blamed abused women for the violence they experienced and for reporting to the police. Blaming discourses persisted despite a community forum established to protect women from IPV. Other women ceased any form of complaint about IPV due to concerns about their livelihoods and the security of their children.

The findings highlight the need for effective responses to address women who have been exposed to IPV. This requires going back to the basics of community intervention to change gender norms over time and improve women’s economic conditions through group based participatory methods.

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