Intimate partner violence (IPV) refers to any assaultive and coercive behaviour that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to a person in a relationship [1,2]. IPV is pervasive globally [2–4], affecting all cultures and socioeconomic groups [5,6]. Although this type of behavior can be perpetrated against men or women, evidence suggests that it is largely perpetrated by male partners against female partners of reproductive age [2,7]. A recent multi-country study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) [2,8] revealed that one out of three women experiences either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime worldwide. There are however regional variations, with the prevalence of IPV being observed to be higher in Africa (37%) and South-East Asia (38%) than in Europe (25%) and the Americas (30%) [2,9].
IPV against women is a worldwide public health and human rights concern [10–12], as it has been shown to be a risk factor for various physical and mental health problems [7,13–18]. Prior research has demonstrated that women who are sexually and physically abused by their intimate partners have a high risk of developing physical and mental health problems including traumatic stress, injury, depression infectious diseases such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and even death, compared to those not affected by IPV [7,17–19].
The issue of IPV has become a global priority and there are efforts and high-level commitments towards addressing the issue. For instance, in an attempt to minimize or eradicate violence against women, the United Nations (UN) introduced conventions such as the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), among others that contain provisions to protect the rights and well-being of women to directly or indirectly curb the rising prevalence of violence against them [20,21]. Furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goal five target two adopted by the UN in 2015 aims at ending all forms of violence against women [22,23]. Moreover, various regions and nations have laws that criminalize intimate partner violence. For example, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR)‘S chapter 1, article 5, emphasizes that "Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity……all forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly slavery, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited” .
Despite the laws and legislations to protect women against violence, IPV is still on the rise in developing countries [25,26]. In Africa, several factors including the patriarchy system, culture and social norms have been identified as contributing factors to the rise of IPV in the region [8,26]. In general, IPV is tolerated and perceived as a cultural norm and accepted as a means to keep women disciplined and on track [4,27–29]. In Sub Saharan Africa, over 75% of wife beating is justified, for example when a woman is deemed as not living up to her husband’s and society’s expectations [12,26]. In some instances, local communities tolerate the male use of violence to maintain control over women [4,26]. Thus, culture has been normalized and viewed as unavoidable in some communities over generations [4,30,31].
Furthermore, having a low economic status has been shown to increase women’s vulnerability to IPV [4,32], because they might be financially dependent on their male intimate partners. As the average level of education of African women is usually lower than that of their male partners , they are more likely to be unaware of their rights and of the laws regarding IPV [34–38].
The relational approach theory suggests that differences in educational achievement, age, and carrier development may increase women’s vulnerability to IPV [8,39]. In some circumstances, the financial situation of women may expose them to IPV, especially in conservative societies that usually stress normative roles of women [8,25]. Conversely, some men may resort to violence to enhance their positions , especially where they feel powerless and threatened by their female partners’ socio-economic achievements [8,25].
Over the past decades the media has become a critical tool in educating women on IPV in Sub-Saharan Africa , and has been utilized to prevent and respond to violence. Evidence suggests that the media is effective in raising awareness on IPV , and that it influences attitudes towards gender norms by alerting women and societies about human rights and violations of these rights .
The case of Zimbabwe
The prevalence of IPV is high in Zimbabwe. According to data from a Demographic Health Survey (DHS) conducted in 2015, about 35% of women had experienced physical violence from the age of 15 and 14% had experienced sexual violence once in their lifetime. The report further revealed that 32% of married women had experienced spousal emotional violence . Other studies further indicated that 40% of women and a third of men accepted and justified physical chastisement of women [44–46]. Although the Domestic Violence Act 14/2006 law exists in Zimbabwe, sexual offenses such as spousal rape, remain a widespread problem in the country [43,44]. It has been reported that almost a quarter of married women who experience domestic violence also experience sexual violence . Despite the government’s efforts to incorporate some of CEDAW’s protocols in the Domestic Violence Act, it has been noted that the government of Zimbabwe has not indorsed elective protocols  which are meant to address defilements comparable to individuals complaints procedures . The domestication of these protocols has been hindered by poor implementation, administrative practices by both state and non-state institutions . This has negatively impacted women and continues to place them in a subordinated state .
In 2010, the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) assessed how Zimbabwe’s mainstream media fared in raising awareness of gender-based violence [50,51]. Although the media is crucial in alerting communities and the authorities of these trending problems, MMPZ found that gender based violence only emerged as a secondary concern in the media . In fact, it was observed that the media had not shown much inclination in raising awareness about gender based violence issues, even during the 16 days of activism against gender based violence campaign. Although, the media is a critical source of information on IPV issues [52,53], studies on the influence and impact of the media on IPV are limited [12,52–55].
As discussed previously, socioeconomic and cultural factors have been identified to be associated with IPV in some developing countries [4,30,33]. However, to the best of our knowledge, no study has examined the relationship between these factors and IPV in Zimbabwe, over time. The objective of this study is to explore the trends in prevalence and risk factors associated with IPV against women in Zimbabwe from 2005 to 2015. The following research questions will be addressed.
- How do demographic characteristics and socioeconomic status (SES) of women influence IPV?
- To what extent does media exposure of women impact their experience of IPV?