Journal of Family Violence

, 23:777

Types of Violence against Women and Factors Influencing Intimate Partner Violence in Togo (West Africa)


    • Department of SociologyUniversity of North Texas

DOI: 10.1007/s10896-008-9203-6

Cite this article as:
Moore, A.R. J Fam Viol (2008) 23: 777. doi:10.1007/s10896-008-9203-6


Violence against women has been recognized as an important social and human rights issue that affects all cultures and societies. Although this issue has been more frequently studied in high-income countries, such as the United States, the scholarly research of violence against women in Africa, especially West Africa, has been scarce. Using a representative sample, this study examined violence against women in Togo, particularly the types of violence that Togolese women endure, and factors that affect a Togolese woman’s chance of being victimized by her intimate partner. The findings indicated that Togolese women experienced different forms of violence. Also, some covariates at the individual level significantly affected a woman’s risk of experiencing intimate partner violence. Several policy recommendations have been made.


Violence against womenTogoAfrica


Violence against women has been recognized as an important social and human rights issue that affects all cultures and societies. Although this issue has been more frequently studied in high income-countries, such as the United States, scholarly work of violence against women in Africa, especially West Africa, has been scarce. It is only recently that scholars have begun to examine this problem and mostly in Ghana (Appiah and Cusack 1999; Amoakohene 2004; Ofei-Aboagye 1994; Takyi and Mann 2006). Nevertheless, as reported by LaFraniere in New York Times (2005), wife beating, a form of violence against women is deep-rooted in African cultural norms. The objective of this paper is to contribute to the limited academic knowledge of the types of violence against women and factors influencing intimate partner violence in West Africa, particularly in Togo.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence is “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation” (WHO 2002, p.4). Women are in general more likely to be victims of violence compared to men and are more significantly affected by the consequences of violence relative to men.

Violence increases women’s vulnerability to ill-health and disability and limits their contribution to socioeconomic development of society. Specifically, it contributes to an increased risk of injury, death, and a series of physical, emotional, and social problems (Eisenstat and Bancroft 1999). It has also been linked to low birth weights (Bullock and McFarlane 1989). Additionally, some researchers have reported a positive correlation between violence against women and unwanted pregnancy (Krug et al. 2002) and sexually transmitted diseases (Dunkle et al. 2004; Quigley et al. 2000). Although consequences of violence against women are perniciously significant, statistics of women who are victims of this problem and the types of violence they endure are difficult to obtain (Gilbert 1996).

Several reasons have been given for the underreporting of violence against women. Ellsberg et al. (2001) reported that variation in study populations, non-responses, the ways violence is measured and defined all contribute to differences in estimates of the number of abused women. Variation in study populations stems from the fact that some studies use only women who have ever been married, while others focused on women in certain age groups. Variation in non-response rates can be explained by the fact that women who experience violence may have circumstances that make it difficult for them to participate in studies. They may be away during the time of the studies or refuse to take part in such studies. While some studies focused on the lifetime of women, others use a limited time period such as 1 year. Some definitional problems also originate from the ambiguity of the concept ‘violence.’ Although there are different forms of violence, most people agree on and consider physical violence as the less contentious form (Eisikovits et al. 2004). Some scholars advocate for a narrow definition of violence, such as physical violence, because it is a “major abuse” and its effects and consequences on the abused are more significant (Fox 1993, p.322). Others use a broad definition of violence including all forms of abuse such as emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual (DeKeseredy and Kelly 1993; DeKeseredy 1995).

Because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter, some women victims of violence do not know how to report it (Ofei-Aboagye 1994). In other cases, especially in developing countries, law enforcement authorities – mainly males – do not report or investigate the matter because of their own biases. At times, law enforcement officials are ill prepared to handle this issue. Thus, women may be dissuaded to report this event knowing there will be no appropriate action taken against perpetrators (Human Rights Watch 1999).

There are several factors that have been found to influence violence against women, especially intimate partner violence. The literature indicates that these are complex (Gage 2005). At the individual level, especially in low-income countries, Moraes and Reichenheim (2002) and Koenig et al. (2003a) found that women who have low educational attainment and low social support and who did not hold paid work were more likely to experience violence. Also reported is a positive correlation between men’s problem-drinking and domestic violence, a relationship that has been found in high-income countries and other social classes as well (Jewkes et al. 2002; Koenig et al. 2003b).

At the societal level, some studies have found that gender inequality, patriarchy, and cultural norms that support marital violence affect a woman’s chance of experiencing violence. From a feminist perspective, men commit violence against women because they want to dominate and control women (Yllö 1988, 1993). The low status of women in a patriarchal society makes men believe that they are superior to women. Thus, they expect women to be subservient in gender relationships (Smith 1990). This expectation can lead to male violent behavior when he feels his power is being challenged by his female partner.

Another theory that explains violence against women focuses on the impact of culture on behavior. The subculture of violence theory (Wolfgang and Ferracuti 1982; Levinson 1989; Counts et al. 1992) posits that men who live in cultures that have violent norms tend to condone violence against women since these norms guide them in terms of how to behave. In addition, if these societies do not have laws and practices that hold men accountable for abusing women and shelter women when they have been abused, then violence against women cannot be abated.

This study used a representative sample to examine violence against women in Togo. Specifically, I first examined the types of violence that Togolese women endure and then factors that affect a Togolese woman’s chance of being victimized by her intimate partner. The study is important for several reasons. First, although domestic violence has been reported to be a significant human rights abuse and has now been considered a public health issue in low-income countries, there is a dearth of scholarly studies on the topic in Togo. Thus, this study contributes to the existing literature on violence against women in low income countries. Second, it is important to know factors that influence the risk of a woman experiencing abuse from her intimate partner in order to make positive changes that will improve lives of Togolese women. Lastly, knowing the severity of the problem in Togo will help policy makers devise appropriate intervention programs to aid women in this plight.


Togo is a low-income country in West Africa. The estimated average income was $350 in 2006 (World Bank Group 2006). With an estimated population of over 5.5 million people, Togo, like most low-income countries, has strong patriarchal social norms and practices which give men dominance over women. Domestic violence, such as wife battering and marital rape, is reported to be a serious issue (World Organization Against Torture 2002). Economically, women are discriminated against as in other aspects of life. According to a U.S. Department of State report, husbands are legally allowed to control their wives’ freedom to work and their earnings. Women in general are also treated unfairly when it comes to the traditional law and its proscriptions regarding divorce and death of a husband. A woman has no legal rights of obtaining child support from a husband and no right of inheritance upon death of a husband (U.S. Department of State 2006). Although there are laws that protect children, girls are frequently discriminated against too. For instance, in education, girls are more likely to drop out of school compared to their male counterparts. The literacy rate for females in 2002 was much lower: 45%, compared to the 74% rate for males (EarthTrends 2003). Overall, life for the average female Togolese is more challenging compared to her male counterpart. However, it is important to note that, at least theoretically, there have been some policies and laws that have been enacted in order to improve lives of Togolese girls and women. It is the implementation of these laws that is yet to be seen.


Data and Measures

This study used data from ‘Enquete sur les Structures Familiales et le Contexte Socio-Demographique des Menages au Togo’ (Unite de Recherche Demographique 2000), a representative sample survey of Togolese families and households in 2000. The survey covered several aspects of family and household issues such as economic activities and professional training, migration history of family, induced abortion, violence against women, and so on. A sample of 2,759 women aged 15 years and over was surveyed about violence. They were asked different questions about experiencing physical violence such as beating, as well as other forms of violence. They were asked the last time they were beaten and who beat them. They were also asked where they reported the event, if they knew other women that had been beaten during the year, and so on. This study examined the types of violence that Togolese women reported and factors influencing intimate partner violence.

Two questions were used for the study: 1) Women were asked about who beat them the last time they were beaten. For this study, the responses were categorized into two groups: women who were beaten by an intimate partner such as a boyfriend, sexual partner, or spouse and women who were beaten by non-intimate partner such as employer, trainer, parent, etc. 2) The women were also asked about if they had been victims of a list of different forms of violence in their life times. Table 2 shows the types of violence and percents of women who reported having been victims.

To assess the risk of a Togolese woman being victim of intimate partner violence, a binary logistic analysis was used (Table 3). The dependent variable, being victim of intimate partner violence, is a dichotomous variable. If a woman responded that she had been victim of intimate partner violence, the dependent variable was coded 1; if she responded that she never experienced intimate partner violence, the dependent variable was coded 0. The following independent variables were used: age, total number of children, number of times a woman had been in a union, number of wives a husband had (all interval ratio variables), marital status (married = 1; unmarried = 2), holding income generating activity (only in the past = 1; presently = 2; never had = 3), education (grades 1–6 = 1; grades 7–10 = 2; grades 11 + = 3; no education = 4), region of residence (Maritime = 1; Plateau = 2; Central = 3; Kara = 4; Savannah = 4; Lomé = 6), and religious affiliation (Christian = 1; traditional = 2; Islam = 3; other = 4; no religion = 5).

Several comments need to be made about the limitations of the data. First, the cross-sectional design of the study limits the interpretation of the results in the sense that causal interpretations cannot be made. Second, since the data were not specifically collected for violence against women, some of the issues that one may want to know, such as women’s views on violence against them cannot be assessed. Also, the data did not have other level measures such as community level variables. Finally, the data does not inform us of the frequency of the violence that a woman endured. Thus, one cannot tell whether or not the type of violence a woman endured was temporally or lifelong.


Table 1 shows the demographic characteristics of the sample. The average age of the women was 40 years. They had on average five children. Forty one percent of the women who reported having been physically abused (beaten) were beaten by an intimate partner. Most of the women were married (about 75%) at the time of the survey. Over 60% of the women had no formal education. However, they mostly had income generating activities at the time of the survey. It is important to note that it is not unusual for Togolese women to have petty trade (small scale merchants of foodstuffs or other goods). About 80% of the participants were in their first union. The married participants were mostly the only wives of their husbands at the time of the survey (64%).
Table 1

Socio-demographic characteristics of sample



Average age


Average number of children


Had experienced intimate partner physical violence (N = 2,229)





Religious affiliation







No religion




Marital status

Never married











No education


Grades 1–6


Grades 7–10


Grades 11 +















Had income generating activity

Only in the past




Never had


Number of times had been in a union (N = 2,654)





3 or more


Number of wives husband had (N = 2,249)





3 or more


N = 2,759 unless stated otherwise

Participants reported they had been victims of different forms of violence (Table 2). Some of these forms of violence perpetrated against these women were psychological, others were physical, and still others were sexual. For instance, about 4% had been victims of levirate, while 35% had been victims of sexual deprivation. Some men use sexual deprivation as a punitive measure against their female partners. It is important to report that a woman, especially a married one, is not socially expected to use this means as a punishment of her husband, for fear of losing the husband to another woman. However, a wife cannot find a male sexual partner outside the marriage and justify her act by being sexually deprived by her husband. About 16% have been sexually harassed. Almost 7% have been sexually kidnapped. This form of violence is found mainly among young engaged women who are forcefully taken away by other men for sexual activity.
Table 2

Types of violence against Togolese women







Sexual deprivation



Sexual harassment



Sexual kidnapping



Physical violence



Female Genital Mutulation



Economic deprivation



Widowhood ceremony






The most reported case of violence, physical violence, had been reported by 72% of the participants. It is worthwhile to note that the most common perpetrators of such type of violence were intimate partners, parents, relatives, and teachers. Furthermore, 19% of respondents were victims of female genital mutilation. The second most reported form of violence, economic deprivation, had been reported by 48% of the women. Eight percent of the women had been victims of a widowhood ceremony whereby the woman, at times, goes through some cruel and dangerous practices at the hands of her in-laws. About the same percent of women had been raped.

Table 3 presents the results of the binary logistic regression model predicting women’s risk of experiencing intimate partner physical violence. A few of the predictor variables significantly affect a woman’s likelihood of experiencing physical violence from her intimate partner in Togo. Some of the findings concurred with previous research while others either surprisingly conflicted with previous research or were not statistically significant. For instance, having an additional child reduced the odds of physical violence about 6% [100 × (1.00 − 0.942)], and number of unions one had been in reduced risks of intimate violence by 20% (100 × (1.00 − 0.80). Islamic women were 2.1 times more likely to experience physical abuse compared to their counterparts who had no religion. This finding concurs with Koenig et al.’s study (2003a, b), where Muslim Bangladeshi families significantly had higher risks of violence. Women with a 7th to 10th grade education and those with at least an 11th grade education were respectively 1.51 and 7.6 times more likely to experience physical violence compared to those who had no education. This was a surprising finding in the sense that, intuitively, education opens socioeconomic doors to a woman, giving her some interdependence and power in her interpersonal relations. As researched earlier, several authors have found that a woman’s education generally plays a protective role against domestic violence. Lastly, living in the region of Kara and Savannah reduced the risk of intimate partner violence by 60% and 35% respectively, compared to living in Lomé, the capital city. Finally, contrary to other research, Moraes and Reichenheim (2002) and Koenig et al. (2003a), having a paid work did not affect the odds of experiencing intimate partner violence in Togo.
Table 3

Odds ratios from logistic regression model of experiencing intimate partner physical violence


Odds ratio

Standard error




Number of children



Number of times had been in a union



Number of wives husband had



Religious affiliation













No religion

Marital status




Not married


Grades 1–6



Grades 7–10



Grades 11 +



No education

Had income generating activity

Only in the past






Never had


















Dashes represent the reference group

*p < 0.10; **p < 0.05; ***p < 0.01; ****p < 0.001

Discussion and Conclusion

The study examined forms of violence and factors that influence intimate partner violence in Togo using a representative sample of Togolese women. Findings indicated that Togolese women experienced different forms of violence and at different rates. However, the most common type of violence that these women experienced was physical violence—beating. Most frequent perpetrators were intimate partners, parents, relatives, and teachers. Consequences of these violent behaviors are pervasive and far reaching. For instance, female genital mutilation, which was experienced by 19% of the respondents, has physical, psychological, and psychosexual consequences (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2005). Also, women who experience physical violence in their family of origin may grow up with the belief that physical violence is a normal practice within unions and subsequently expect it within their own family (Coker et al. 2000). Policy makers may need to develop programs that sensitize both men and women of how violence against women affects society as a whole. In low income countries where violence against women seems to be more significant, policy makers should implement programs that educate both young boys and girls early on in life about the pernicious consequences of this behavior. By so doing, in cases where children have been exposed to violence in their families of origin they will learn that violence is not a normal interpersonal behavior and must be done away with instead of being perpetuated.

With regard to factors that affect Togolese women’s chances of experiencing intimate partner violence, some covariates at the individual level have been statistically significant in this study. Higher numbers of children and number of times one has been in a marital union reduced the odds of a Togolese women experiencing physical abuse from a male partner. One explanation of these findings may be that women with more children tend to compromise much more in their relationships for the children’s sake. They may not be able to support the children on their own since there is no system that legally requires husbands to pay child support. It is husbands that decide the amount of support they are willing to pay in case they allow the women to leave with the children. Also, women know that, having more children, they are unlikely to be remarried if they were to divorce. Thus, the women may judge it beneficial to avoid situations in which their male partners will get upset to a point of beating them. Furthermore, women who have a higher number of unions are socially looked down upon because people tend to question their marital or interpersonal skills. Consequently, these women may also try to keep the peace by avoiding occasions of conflict whereby their intimate partners may become angry and beat them.

However, contrary to the literature, education negatively affected risks of experiencing intimate partner violence among Togolese women. Women with a seven to ten grade education were 1.5 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to their counterparts with no education; while those with at least an 11th grade education were 7.6 times at risk of intimate partner violence. An application of a feminist perspective clearly fits this finding. In general, women with more education tend to be more assertive. Thus, they would not settle for less in their gender relationships. By being more assertive, their male partners consequently feel that their power and control are being threatened. Subsequently, they may become physical. In an environment where women’s status is low and there are no practical laws that protect women from physical abuse and hold perpetrators accountable, men, when they feel out of control, can result to physical force as a way to regain their control.

Amoakohene’s study (2004) in Ghana indirectly showed this fact with her sample of women with secondary and post secondary education. These women, although socioeconomically independent, were not saved from intimate partner violence. It is important to note that other studies have shown that education does not necessary bring women greater control overall; men’s dominance still prevails in gender relationships in Africa (Adomako 2000; Avotri and Walters 2001; De Rose et al. 2002). This is a disturbing finding in the sense that in most areas education endows women some power and autonomy in gender relations. However, this is not the case in Togo. Another possible explanation may be the fact that Togo has been under a dictatorship for decades and people at the top have abused the rights of people below them. Thus, the unequal distribution of power and the way it has been used outside the home may unfortunately infiltrate into interpersonal and loving relationships at home. Since men generally have power and control, they may abuse the rights of women within unions. Policy makers and organizations that advocate against violence against women should campaign against this social and health problem and help families that experience it. Also, they should make it easier for abused women to come forth and make help readily available and accessible for them.

Another finding that is worthy to mention is religion. The relationship between belonging to Islamic religion and intimate partner violence is positive and significant. This may be explained by the fact that the Muslim men may be more conservative in the application of Islamic religion. Nonetheless, Christianity as well as Islam elevates the status of men compared to the status of women and demands women to be submissive to their husbands.

Also, living in the Savannah and Kara regions reduced odds of intimate partner violence relative to Lomé, the capital city. One explanation of this finding may lie in the fact that Lomé is inhabited by people from different places with different cultural expectations. Also, people in the Kara and Savannah regions may be living with extended families or live with people from older generations, who may not condone violence against women because of its disturbing consequences on the family as well as the women.

Overall, this study, despite its limitations, adds to the literature. Future studies on violence against women must have longitudinal designs in order to understand the dynamics of this social problem. Qualitative studies of both men and women are needed so that scholars can understand the perspectives of the abused and abusers.


Significant at 0.88


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