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Displacement-related factors influencing marital practices and associated intimate partner violence risk among Somali refugees in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia: a qualitative study

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Vandana Sharma, Adaugo Amobi, Samuel Tewolde, Negussie Deyessa & Jennifer Scott

Conflict and Health volume 14, Article number: 17 (2020)



Child and forced marriage have negative health consequences including increased risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) for women and girls. War and humanitarian crises may impact decision-making around marriage and risks of IPV for displaced populations. A qualitative study was conducted among Somali refugees in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia to understand the interplay of factors that contribute to IPV and to inform an intervention. This secondary analysis aims to explore the influence of displacement on marital practices and associated IPV risk.


Interviews and focus group discussions were conducted in 2016 in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia, among Somali women and men living in Bokolmayo refugee camp, host community members, non-governmental staff and service providers, stakeholders, and community and religious leaders (N = 110). Data were transcribed, translated to English, and coded and analyzed thematically using Dedoose software and a codebook developed a priori.


Findings reveal numerous displacement-related factors that led to perceived shifts in marital practices among refugees, including reductions in child and forced marriages. NGO awareness-raising programs and Ethiopian laws prohibiting child marriage as well as increased access to education for girls were reported to have contributed to these changes, despite continued economic hardship and high perceived risk of non-partner sexual violence within the camp and host community. Polygamy was also perceived to have decreased, primarily due to worsening economic conditions. Forced marriage, polygamy and dowry were reported to contribute to physical IPV, and sexual IPV was reported as common in all types of marital unions. However, there was no evidence that changes in these marital practices contributed to any perceived declines in IPV within this context.


Safe access to education for girls should be prioritized in humanitarian settings. Interventions to address child and forced marriage should address gender and social norms. Intimate partner violence prevention programming should include specialized content taking into account marital practices including child and forced marriage and polygamy. Laws recognizing sexual IPV within marital relationships are needed to reduce sexual IPV.