Why does the beginning of the marriage matter? Women’s marital transitions, empowerment and abuse in Myanmar

By Stephanie Spaid MiedemaSan Shwe, and Aye Thiri Kyaw

Relationships are all about power.

Family sociologists find that broader social systems of gender inequality affect women’s power within marriage. That is, when women are not valued in society as equal to men, they are similarly not valued in marriage as equal to their husbands.* There are consequences to this inequality. When women hold relatively less power within their relationships, they are at higher risk of experiencing adversity, such as intimate partner violence. This effect is particularly pronounced in countries with high gender inequality. When we think about gender, power and violence, we tend to focus, not surprisingly, on relationships that already exist.  We measure indicators of women’s empowerment, such as decision-making or gendered attitudes, within existing marriages.

But relationships do not form out of thin air. Rather, we transaugust_miedema_myanmar-map_flatition into relationships.

When we marry, we shift from single individuals to a two-person unit within the social institution of marriage. So, what happens to power during that transition? What if the beginning of the relationship is a pivotal moment in which the distribution of power is coded onto the future marital relationship? How does this change our thinking around women’s empowerment in marriage and risk of experiencing partner violence?  The long-isolated country of Myanmar (formerly Burma), nestled between China, India and Thailand, served as a unique site to test these questions. Continue reading “Why does the beginning of the marriage matter? Women’s marital transitions, empowerment and abuse in Myanmar”