Address Gbv to safeguard women’s mental health
Dr Jeldah Nyamache
This year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is still underway.
Violence against women remains one of the most widespread yet least discussed acts of human rights violation.
One in every three women around the world will experience some form of violence during their lifetime regardless of cultural or geographical boundaries, making it a global crisis.
It is deep-rooted in the gender inequality and stereotypes that women have been subjected to for ages.
In agreement with the UN Women report, this year has been like no other. Even before Covid-19, violence against women and girls had reached pandemic proportions, with 243 million women and girls having been abused globally by an intimate partner in the past year.
Less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence report it or seek help.
The World Health Organisation has also reported a high prevalence of GBV during the pandemic.
Indeed, addressing it has often been deprioritised, leaving vulnerable groups at higher risk.
Physical violence, emotional and psychological abuse, sexual assault, female genital mutilation (FGM) and economic abuse are some of the common forms of GBV.
The commonest perpetrators of violence are intimate partners, friends, relatives and people familiar with the survivor or victim.
Children worldwide experience sexual and physical violence in the hands of people they know well before becoming adults.
Many factors intertwine to create an environment conducive for abuse in many cultures.
Self-identity crises, poverty, ignorance and peer pressure are pre-disposing factors for GBV all reinforced by slow legal systems, cultural norms such as FGM, inferior treatment of girls and women, and social tolerance of GBV.
Victims and survivors experience blame, shame and stigma in most cases causing long-term negative effects especially on their physical and mental health and that of their families and communities.
It becomes a barrier to social, political and economic development and undermines all efforts in building of just and peaceful societies.
These experiences increase risk of poor mental health manifested as anxiety, depression, suicide, homicide, psychoactive substance abuse and further violence among others.
It is common in some societies to find small girls facing heavier punishment for mistakes at home than boys.
Men beat and verbally abuse their wives in the presence of children, and women are expected to persevere and stay on.
Young people, especially girls, are forcibly pushed into premature marriage for economic and social reasons.
Women’s opinions and contributions are not valued in such societies and must be validated by men.
Career advancement for women is more difficult compared to men of similar qualifications and age.
Complaints from girls or women about such things are often treated as non-issues and attempts to seek justice are used to further torment them.
It is not surprising to hear girls and women being held responsible for violence and abuse that happen to them.
Perpetrators should be held accountable as per national or international legislation.
Fear or threat of violence must not restrict women and girls from living free and full lives and realising their full potential.
All of us need to increase the effort in educating and promoting respectful relationships between people and cultivate a culture of mutual respect, gender equality and responsibility.
Taking pro-active steps in addressing GBV will safeguard the physical and more importantly the mental health of vulnerable people — The writer is a general medical practitioner