“Staying for the children”: The role of natal relatives in supporting women experiencing intimate partner violence during pregnancy in northern Tanzania – A qualitative study

Geofrey Nimrod Sigalla , Declare Mushi, Tine Gammeltoft
Publication year: 


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global health and human rights problem. In Tanzania, national studies have shown that half of all women experience partner violence in their lifetime, 38% reported being abused during a period of 12 months and 30% during pregnancy. Despite the benefits of social support to women victims of violence during pregnancy, a majority of women hesitate to seek help and, if they do, they mainly turn to their natal relatives for support. However, this process of help-seeking and the type of support received is not well documented and needs to be explored with a view to future interventions. This article investigates women’s own perspectives on the support they receive from natal relatives when experiencing IPV during pregnancy.

Materials and methods

Eighteen participants who experienced physical IPV during pregnancy were purposively selected from a cohort of 1,116 pregnant women enrolled in a project that aimed at assessing the impact of intimate partner violence on reproductive health. In-depth interviews were used to explore the social support received from the natal family among women who experienced partner violence during pregnancy. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, coded and analyzed.


Women who experienced severe IPV during pregnancy were more likely to seek help from natal relatives. Severe violence was defined by the women as acts that occurred frequently and/or resulted in injury. The women’s natal relatives were willing to provide the support; however, they strongly encouraged women to maintain their marriage so that they could continue caring for their children jointly with their partners. Emotional support was the commonest form of support and included showing love and empathy and praying. Information provided to victims aimed mainly at advising them to maintain their marriage. Practical support included direct financial support and building their economic base to reduce dependency on their partners. When the couple was on the verge of separation, mediation was provided to save the marriage.


Women who experienced partner violence preferred to seek help from their natal relatives. The support provided by natal relatives was beneficial; however, maintaining the marriage for the care of children and family was given the highest priority, over separation. As a consequence, many women continued to live with violence. Stakeholders supporting victims of violence need to understand the priorities of victims of violence and structure intervention to address their needs.