Research article

BMC Women's Health

, 7:11

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Risk factors for domestic physical violence: national cross-sectional household surveys in eight southern African countries

  • Neil AnderssonAffiliated withCentro de Investigación de Enfermedades Tropicales (CIET), Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero Email author 
  • , Ari Ho-FosterAffiliated withCIET Trust
  • , Steve MitchellAffiliated withCIET Trust
  • , Esca ScheepersAffiliated withSoul City Institute for Health and Development Communication
  • , Sue GoldsteinAffiliated withSoul City Institute for Health and Development Communication



The baseline to assess impact of a mass education-entertainment programme offered an opportunity to identify risk factors for domestic physical violence.


In 2002, cross-sectional household surveys in a stratified urban/rural last-stage random sample of enumeration areas, based on latest national census in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Working door to door, interviewers contacted all adults aged 16–60 years present on the day of the visit, without sub-sampling. 20,639 adults were interviewed. The questionnaire in 29 languages measured domestic physical violence by the question "In the last year, have you and your partner had violent arguments where your partner beat, kicked or slapped you?" There was no measure of severity or frequency of physical violence.


14% of men (weighted based on 1,294/8,113) and 18% of women (weighted based on 2,032/11,063) reported being a victim of partner physical violence in the last year. There was no convincing association with age, income, education, household size and remunerated occupation. Having multiple partners was strongly associated with partner physical violence. Other associations included the income gap within households, negative attitudes about sexuality (for example, men have the right to sex with their girlfriends if they buy them gifts) and negative attitudes about sexual violence (for example, forcing your partner to have sex is not rape). Particularly among men, experience of partner physical violence was associated with potentially dangerous attitudes to HIV infection.


Having multiple partners was the most consistent risk factor for domestic physical violence across all countries. This could be relevant to domestic violence prevention strategies.