Women’s Status in Rural Bangladesh: Exploitation and Empowerment

Economics of Public Policy master project by Agrima Sahore, Ah Young Jang, and Marjorie Pang ’19

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona GSE.

Abstract

Using household survey data from rural Bangladesh, we explore determinants of domestic violence. We propose two hypotheses: first, women suffer more domestic abuse as a result of marrying young; and second, women who are empowered suffer less gender-based violence. We isolate the causal effect of marriage timing using age at first menstruation and extreme weather as instruments; and the effect of empowerment using the number of types of informal credit sources as instrument. We find robust evidence contrary to our hypotheses. Our findings highlight that mere empowerment or increasing age at first marriage are insufficient mediums to combat gender-based violence and can in fact be counterproductive to reducing domestic violence against women, if the socio-economic context is not carefully considered.

Conclusion

Interestingly, we find a positive relationship between age at first marriage and domestic violence; and empowerment and domestic violence. This highlights the complexity of the nature of domestic violence against women in a highly conservative setting like rural Bangladesh.

Violence against women continues to be a social and economic problem Bangladesh struggles with. Although the government had aimed to eliminate gender based violence in the country by 2015, their efforts have not achieved the desired results. However, if the empowerment of women (an improvement in their economic and social status) and violence against them follows an inverted U-shaped curve, it is possible that Bangladesh is still adjusting to egalitarian gender norms and expectations and is stationed somewhere on the positive slope of the curve, wherein increase in empowerment initially would increase violence against women, before reducing it.

In order to design successful policies to combat violence against women, our study highlights the importance of understanding traditional cultural norms – especially prevailing gender norms – economic conditions, and how the interplay of various socio-economic factors contribute to domestic violence against women. Ultimately, actions and practices aimed at improving women’s condition in societies should work towards confronting existing circumstances and environments that underlie women’s risk of experiencing domestic violence.

Authors: Agrima Sahore, Ah Young Jang , and Marjorie Pang

About the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics of Public Policy