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PLoS Med. 2020 Mar 19;17(3):e1003064. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003064. eCollection 2020 Mar.

Drought and intimate partner violence towards women in 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa during 2011-2018: A population-based study.

Author information

Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.
Department of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.
Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health, City University of New York, New York, New York, United States of America.
Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.



Drought has many known deleterious impacts on human health, but little is known about the relationship between drought and intimate partner violence (IPV). We aimed to evaluate this relationship and to assess effect heterogeneity between population subgroups among women in 19 sub-Saharan African countries.


We used data from 19 Demographic and Health Surveys from 2011 to 2018 including 83,990 partnered women aged 15-49 years. Deviations in rainfall in the year before the survey date were measured relative to the 29 previous years using Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station data, with recent drought classified as ordinal categorical variable (severe: ≤10th percentile; mild/moderate: >10th percentile to ≤30th percentile; none: >30th percentile). We considered 4 IPV-related outcomes: reporting a controlling partner (a risk factor for IPV) and experiencing emotional violence, physical violence, or sexual violence in the 12 months prior to survey. Logistic regression was used to estimate marginal risk differences (RDs). We evaluated the presence of effect heterogeneity by age group and employment status. Of the 83,990 women included in the analytic sample, 10.7% (9,019) experienced severe drought and 23.4% (19,639) experienced mild/moderate drought in the year prior to the survey, with substantial heterogeneity across countries. The mean age of respondents was 30.8 years (standard deviation 8.2). The majority of women lived in rural areas (66.3%) and were married (73.3%), while less than half (42.6%) were literate. Women living in severe drought had higher risk of reporting a controlling partner (marginal RD in percentage points = 3.0, 95% CI 1.3, 4.6; p < 0.001), experiencing physical violence (marginal RD = 0.8, 95% CI 0.1, 1.5; p = 0.019), and experiencing sexual violence (marginal RD = 1.2, 95% CI 0.4, 2.0; p = 0.001) compared with women not experiencing drought. Women living in mild/moderate drought had higher risk of reporting physical (marginal RD = 0.7, 95% CI 0.2, 1.1; p = 0.003) and sexual violence (marginal RD = 0.7, 95% CI 0.3, 1.2; p = 0.001) compared with those not living in drought. We did not find evidence for an association between drought and emotional violence. In analyses stratified by country, we found 3 settings where drought was protective for at least 1 measure of IPV: Namibia, Tanzania, and Uganda. We found evidence for effect heterogeneity (additive interaction) for the association between drought and younger age and between drought and employment status, with stronger associations between drought and IPV among adolescent girls and unemployed women. This study is limited by its lack of measured hypothesized mediating variables linking drought and IPV, prohibiting a formal mediation analysis. Additional limitations include the potential for bias due to residual confounding and potential non-differential misclassification of the outcome measures leading to an attenuation of observed associations.


Our findings indicate that drought was associated with measures of IPV towards women, with larger positive associations among adolescent girls and unemployed women. There was heterogeneity in these associations across countries. Weather shocks may exacerbate vulnerabilities among women in sub-Saharan Africa. Future work should further evaluate potential mechanisms driving these relationships.

Conflict of interest statement

I have read the journal’s policy and the authors of this manuscript have the following competing interests: SDW is a member of the Editorial Board of PLOS Medicine. EDC receives grants from NIH.

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