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The State of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in West Africa

TW: Parts of this feature include real life stories and statistical descriptions of women who have experienced physical and sexual violence. Some of the stories may be triggering for people who have experienced these forms of violence.

A closer analysis of IPV prevalence in West Africa requires significant unpacking of gender norms and the different ways they manifest, as well as influence IPV.


Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) affects women in many ways and for some women, it has lifelong impacts. A multi-level study conducted by the Lancet in 2018 using the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global database on the prevalence of Violence Against Women (VAW) described IPV as any form of violence that is perpetuated with the intention to harm an individual physically, sexually, and psychologically within the context of marriage, cohabitation, or any other form of intimate or romantic relationships, that is controlling and capable of causing emotional and economic harm to women and girls. Some of these harms, expressed through short- and long-term effects of IPV, include depression, anxiety, unintended pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and death. A comparable statistical evaluation of IPV across the world shows that almost half of femicide cases are committed by intimate partners either as husbands, partners, lovers or any other form of recognizable intimate relationship.

As part of our regional engagement within the West African regional network of the Coalition of Feminists for Social Change (COFEM),  IPV was identified as a critical regional concern that requires greater advocacy. We acknowledge that IPV is prevalent in West Africa and has impacted the lives of women and girls across many generations.

Prevalence of IPV in West Africa

A closer analysis of IPV prevalence in West Africa requires significant unpacking of gender norms and the different ways they manifest, as well as influence IPV. Benebo & Vaezghasemi in their multilevel study examined the effect of women’s status and community norms on IPV experience. They referenced that women’s status can make some difference in reducing IPV prevalence, however, community norms that perpetuate men’s hegemony and dominance over women can undermine even the relevance of women’s socioeconomic status to reducing women’s predisposition to intimate partner violence. Additionally, in 14 of the 15 countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), IPV was seen as justifiable as indicated by World Bank data.

Empirical & anecdotal evidence by country across West Africa

Because we cannot standardize women and girls’ experience of IPV, we reckon a country-by-country highlight is a necessary step towards understanding the different manifestations of IPV within the region. We have, however, privileged countries where we have active membership for our regional engagements. To visualize what IPV could look like for some West African women and girls, we have commenced with IPV storytelling from a young Nigerian woman engaged in higher education before sharing prevalence data for the remainder of this section.

TW: This story contains descriptions of acts of physical and sexual violence against women.

“My boyfriend asked me never to communicate with my parents on any prospective progress so that they do not ask me to take up certain financial responsibilities. His reason was for me and everything I had to be just for both of us, despite the fact that we were not married. But I had an amazing relationship with my Dad, and I love him so much it was difficult not to discuss issues with him, be it progress or challenges”, “At that time, my boyfriend stood up and asked for my mobile phone. As soon as I handed it to him, he opened the phone, removed the SIM card, broke it into two and threw it away. Shocked about his actions, and before I could open my mouth to ask him why, he slapped me on my cheek two times. The force of the slaps landed me on the floor. Instantly I became unresponsive to stimuli. Afraid of what my condition could be, he started shaking me with the aim of bringing me back to life. When he felt I was okay, he dragged me to bed and had sex with me. Sex, for him, was a way of letting me know he owned me.”

Nigeria: Insights from the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS, 2018) demonstrates that approximately 31% of women within the age bracket of 15-49 years have experienced physical violence while 36% of women who have ever been married or (in heterosexual relationships) have all been physically, emotionally and sexually violated by their partners. “The percentage of women and girls who have experienced physical violence since age 15 increased from 28% in both 2008 and 2013 to 31% in 2018. After decreasing from 15% in 2008 to 11% in 2013, the percentage of women who had experienced physical violence in the past 12 months increased to 14% in 2018” (NDHS, 2018).

It is important to note that a lot of people acknowledge IPV as an anomaly that should be eliminated, however, this concern with the increasing incidence of IPV is nothing but tokenistic. This data aligns with the global evidence that 1 in 3 women might have experienced physical, sexual/intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Between May to July 2023, the Nigerian social media space reported a terrifying number of incidents of IPV stating that most of the survivors never made it out of their relationships unharmed.

Ghana: Just as any other country in West Africa, IPV is within the public eye. According to Tenkorang & Owusu, (2018), approximately 28% of Ghanaian women have experienced IPV. In 2016, 27.7% of Ghanaian women experienced IPV as highlighted in the socio-economic and health impact analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further research demonstrates that 39% of women (who have ever been married in their lifetime) have experienced spousal IPV at some point in their life.

Sierra Leone: Despite the promulgation of the Domestic Violence Act of 2007 & 2012, 61% 0f women of reproductive age (15-49 years) experienced physical violence and 43% experienced IPV, according to the 2019 Demographic Health Survey. “The percentage of women and girls who experienced physical violence since age 15 increased from 56% in 2013 to 61% in 2019. The percentage of women who experienced physical violence in the 12 months preceding the survey increased even more sharply over the same period, from 27% to 43%” (SLDHS, 2019).

Liberia: Approximately two-thirds of women and girls who are of reproductive age have experienced IPV, while approximately 55% of women in long-term relationships have experienced IPV. According to the 2019-2020 Liberia Demographic Health Survey (LDHS), “the percentage of women and girls who have experienced physical violence since age 15 has increased greatly over time, from 44% in 2007 to 60% in 2019-20. The percentage of those who have experienced physical violence in the past 12 months has also increased but by much less, from 29% to 33%”.

IPV is believed to be exacerbated by traditional social norms and behaviors as noted by the LDHS, however, the increase in cases of IPV is not limited to traditional social norms. Hopefully, the recently passed Domestic Violence Bill can make a significant impact in eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in the future. Additionally, IPV prevalence and correlation study conducted by Shaikh further reveals higher rates of physical and mental health morbidities among survivors.

Cameroon: The summary report of the National Demographic Health Survey states that 40% of women in long-term relationships experienced IPV perpetrated by their most current partner. The national prevalence of IPV in Cameroon is estimated at 34%. The national survey also notes that “spousal violence is most common in the Center region (not including Yaoundé) where 51% of ever-married women experienced spousal violence in the year before the survey” (CDHS, 2018)

Key drivers of IPV

IPV can be influenced by discriminatory socio-cultural practices or norms that maintain the belief that men have the right to control women, particularly within intimate partnerships. In some countries within the region, attitudes, beliefs and practices have led to violent actions against women being dismissed due to widespread beliefs that women surrender their rights to their husbands at the point of marriage, particularly when bride price is paid. More so, and in the exercise of these norms along with control tactics on women, male partners find social support for their acts and behavior. For example, in Nigeria, a man (boyfriend/husband) could beat, divorce, or murder his wife for offenses that he considers disrespectful to his person or name. IPV has its base in structural and systemic functionalism- IPV evolves, and gets embedded into the social fabrics of any society and perpetuates its practice as norm based on precedents.

Conclusion, recommendations & call to action

IPV in West Africa is widely known, and documented. However, much needs to be done to end IPV and VAWG more broadly.

As the COFEM West Africa regional network, we:

  • Call upon West African governments to earmark intervention based on national data to eliminate all forms of IPV and to center women and girls in their response.
  • Prioritize investment that increases women’s agency and transforms patriarchal narratives, practices, belief systems, institutions and legislation.
  • Dismantle structural and systemic fundamentalism that maintains tolerance and acceptance of practices that violate women and girls.
  • Call on donors and philanthropic organizations to resource women-led and collective efforts towards eliminating IPV.



  1. Benebo, F. O., Schumann, B., & Vaezghasemi, M. (2018). Intimate partner violence against women in Nigeria: a multilevel study investigating the effect of women’s status and community norms. BMC women’s health, 18(1), 1-17.
  2. Cofie, N. (2020). A multilevel analysis of contextual risk factors for intimate partner violence in Ghana. International review of victimology, 26(1), 50-78.
  3. Cools, S., & Kotsadam, A. (2017). Resources and intimate partner violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Development, 95, 211-230.
  4. National Demographic Health Survey (Nigeria) (NDHS, 2018)
  5. Sardinha, L., Maheu-Giroux, M., Stöckl, H., Meyer, S. R., & García-Moreno, C. (2022). Global, regional, and national prevalence estimates of physical or sexual, or both, intimate partner violence against women in 2018. The Lancet, 399(10327), 803-813.
  6. Shaikh, M. A. (2022). Prevalence and Correlates of Intimate Partner Violence against Women in Liberia: Findings from 2019–2020 Demographic and Health Survey. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(6), 3519.
  7. Tenkorang, E. Y., & Owusu, A. Y. (2018). A life course understanding of domestic and intimate partner violence in Ghana. Child Abuse & Neglect, 79, 384-394.
  8. The Liberia demographic health survey (LDHS) (2019-2020)
  9. The Sierra Leonean demographic health survey (SLDHS, 2019)
  10. United Nations Humans Rights Office of the High Commissioner: Violence against Women. 2010. accessed 28 September 2022