When it comes to family planning and access to contraception, there are more than just political and economic barriers. In patriarchal societies, a woman’s ability to make her own choices when it comes to reproductive and sexual health is limited because these decisions are often controlled by her husband or other prominent family members. This often creates unequal stature and power dynamics within a relationship. This uneven dynamic is considered a form of gender-based violence (GBV).
Gender based violence, which includes domestic violence, can limit women’s reproductive and sexual rights and can be a major contributor to gender inequality. Unwanted pregnancy is just one of the consequences of sexual coercion and physical violence in intimate relationships. Unfortunately, domestic violence is also linked to other Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) issues, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), maternal mortality and morbidity, and various forms of psychological trauma.
Domestic violence is very common worldwide, with an astonishing 30% of women reporting that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Not only is it physically harmful to women, but it also perpetuates a relationship of inequity between men and women. This inequity manifests itself in a variety of ways; “Women are often under-privileged compared to men in meeting their sexual needs and in freedom of choice of their partners, which has implications for women’s reproductive behaviour and human rights.” Unequal status also leads to a lack of legal and emotional support when suffering from domestic violence.
What can we do?
The best way to reduce risks of domestic violence among women is to help raise awareness of the issue. However, in countries where speaking about domestic violence and sexual abuse is often considered taboo, this can be a monumental task. Careful policy making, monitoring and evaluation, and access to rights based-education is a necessary component to achieving a change in the power dynamic.
Often, when we speak about educating women about their own rights and reproductive health, we tend not to stress the importance of educating their partners and families. The barriers aren’t within just a few homes but within communities that need to be educated on the risks associated with gender based violence and what it means for family planning and reproductive health. In a society bound by cultural norms and expectations, it can be difficult to address the seriousness of domestic violence. Most societies in developing countries are often plagued by decades of gender inequality and patriarchal societies that limit the rights of women and girls; this does not have to be the norm. Education, especially starting at a young age, needs to occur to shift the way new generations perceive relationships between sexes. In schools, starting to eliminate the biases caused by stigma surrounding gender roles is the first step to tearing down the walls of gender inequality. Small changes in the ways children are educated about gender norms and roles can and should be the global responsibility of local and international communities.
It is only with that combined effort that we can take action against gender-based violence to reduce the culture of violence against women and girls. Being of Pakistani descent, it troubles me to think that we, as a society, don’t do more for women suffering from domestic violence. Why do we stay silent when we know someone is suffering from abuse? If we took more responsibility in speaking out against these horrendous acts, we would be a more progressive society. Where can you start? Volunteer for an organization that advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Become hotline volunteers, client advocates, and most importantly, empathetic listeners. See a list of ways to help, below…