Combat gender-based violence with responsive counseling

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Combat gender-based violence with responsive counseling

Saturday, 18 March 2023 | Prachi Shukla

Making support systems more responsive and accessible can be effective in preventing violence against women

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a globally pervasive yet largely-invisible human rights violation. It includes physical, sexual, mental, or economic harm inflicted on a person because of gender-based power imbalances in society. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost one in every three women, or approximately 736 million women, have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their lifetime. Violence is prevalent in all spaces women occupy, including digital spaces.

During the pandemic, several reports indicated, a significant increase in domestic violence cases due to loss of income and decreased access to services, disruption of social and protective networks, increasing household workload, drudgery, etc. Significant evidence and insights, which are India-specific, have also been generated from various studies and community interventions during the pandemic. World Health Partners (WHP), through its comprehensive intervention focused on addressing gender-based violence (GBV), will be working in the states of Delhi, Gujarat, and Jharkhand, from June 2021-December 2022. The project supported individuals with GBV issues through counseling and referral, and facilitated linkages with government social security and protection schemes.  Close to 40,000 people were screened and more than 2,500 were found affected with GBV. Interestingly, physical violence is not always the dominant form of coercion. In terms of the nature of violence, WHP data showed that 72% of GBV survivors faced emotional violence such as belittling, abusive language, and isolation from family; 15% faced economic violence as they were not given access to economic resources such as mobile phones or money for daily expenses, 11% faced physical violence. Gender-based violence results in short- and long-term consequences, which sometimes are quite devastating. Injuries, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, as well as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even self-harm and suicide, are some of the impacts of violence that survivors may face.

WHP’s findings presented strong linkages between mental health and gender-based violence, an area that has largely been ignored. More than 75% of women, in the project intervention areas, who had faced GBV had some mental health issues; 62 % were mild, 27% were moderate, and 11% had severe mental health issues. As per the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, suicides among housewives, in India, have risen gradually over the last three years, from 21,359 in 2019 to 22,374 in 2020 to 23,179 in 2021. Also, the share of housewives in female suicides increased to 51.5% (23,179) in 2021, from 50.3% (22,374) in the previous year.

It has been found that a lack of response from support services like legal cells, police, and hospitals, together with a lack of financial resources and distance from home, have proved to be major deterrents for aggrieved women in taking any timely action that could have provided immediate and appropriate relief. Timely, responsive, evidence-based, and often low-cost interventions, when activated in an integrated manner, can help save lives. WHP’s intervention shows that even access to simple tele-counselling services alone can make a lot of difference, as GBV survivors feel supported to overcome the violence they are facing. In addition, ensuring receptive, collaborative, and accessible referral pathways like One Stop Centres (OSCs), also called Sakhi centres is a major requirement to address the issue of gender-based violence and prevent it from becoming.

The need of the hour is to create massive community awareness about various government support services. Currently, the government of India’s ‘Mission Shakti’, and its two sub-schemes, "Sambal’ and ‘Samarthya’ are aimed at strengthening interventions for women’s safety, security, and empowerment in a mission mode. However, its success will largely depend on overcoming the lingering challenge of inter-departmental coordination and collaboration. For instance, the Women’s Helpline (WHL) (181, and OSCs have been designed to operate in an integrated manner, however, no such integration has ever been done. Several states have been running their own distress helpline services like 104, but even these have not been integrated with OSCs. Similarly, necessary linkages between various legal provisions like the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 are yet to be worked out. This led to weak enforcement of laws and resulted in victims' apathy, distrust, and avoidance of the system.

Addressing GBV requires a comprehensive, survivor-centred response system, based on the right to safety, confidentiality, non-discrimination, and self-determination for all survivors.

(The author is a public health expert and country director of World Health Partners)

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