Round-table addressing link between GBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights

Working towards the goal of putting gender norms transformation and engaging men and boys on parliament's agenda.

Today, 07th September 2016, MenEngage Africa manager and International Programmes Manager at Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke), Itumeleng Komanyane, is in Gaborone, Botswana, attending a round-table on addressing the links between gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the SADC region.

This is a very important and strategic meeting for the work of Sonke and MenEngage Africa’s goal of putting gender norms transformation and engaging men and boys for gender justice, on the regional parliamentary platform’s agenda.

In attendance are members of parliament from the SADC region, civil society and UN agencies.

Rationale for round-table on addressing the link between gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights

While gender-based violence (GBV) is a grave violation of human and legal rights, it is also equally important that GBV is recognised as a prime barrier to reproductive health that prevents women, men and families from achieving their full potential. Without addressing GBV, health experts and policy-makers have little chance of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for better health outcomes in terms of lowering maternal mortality, improving child survival, and combating HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Women who experienced intimate partner violence are more likely to use contraceptive methods in secret or have a partner who refuses to use a condom. These women also experience a higher rate of unintended pregnancies, have more unsafe abortions, and are more likely to become pregnant as adolescents. Moreover, abuse during pregnancy poses immediate risks to the mother and unborn child, and also increases chronic problems such as depression, substance abuse, bleeding, lack of access to prenatal care, and poor maternal weight gain. Research has shown that children of abused women have a higher risk of death before reaching age five and violence during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight of babies.

Forced and unprotected sex and related trauma increase the risk that women will be infected by STIs and HIV. The prevalence of STIs among women who have experienced violence is, at least, twice as high as in women who have not with statistics showing a strong correlation also between GBV and HIV. A study in South Africa shows that “relationship power inequity and intimate partner violence increase the risk of HIV infection in young South African women.” In Tanzania young women, aged 18-29, who have been abused by a partner have been found to be 10 times more likely to be HIV-positive than women who have not been abused.

A study conducted by KPMG in 2014 in South Africa estimated that the economic impact of gender-based violence is between, at least, R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion for the year 2012/2013, representing 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP respectively. These figures demonstrate that GBV negatively impacts the society and not just the perpetrators and victims. While the violence might be private, it spills over and brings GBV into the open as a community issue which presents significant costs to businesses, government, and society.

In light of the above, it is clear that gender-based violence undermines women’s and men’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and negatively impact the health of victims and society as a whole bears the burden of GBV.

Research has demonstrated that the underlying causes of gender- based violence are directly linked to attitudes, beliefs, norms and structures that promote and/or condone gender-based discrimination and unequal power. Hence, there is a need to promote long-term social and cultural change towards gender equality which actively engages men and boys as change agents. Moreover, economic empowerment of survivors of GBV will provide them with entrepreneurship skills to take charge of their lives.

In addition to prioritising prevention of GBV, the UN has identified four pillars of essential services that need reinforcement, namely:

  1. Strengthening of the health System to provide comprehensive care to victims of GBV;
  2. Ensuring justice and protection are accorded to victims of GBV in a manner that ensures dignity;
  3. Increasing the number of safe houses and protection centres for victims of GBV; and
  4. Strengthening co-ordination so as to maximise efficient responses and avoid duplication of work amongst stakeholders and agencies.