Although little research has been conducted on sexual violence throughout the world, available data suggest that in some countries nearly one in four women may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner. About one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced.
Sexual violence is known to have a profound impact on physical and mental health. It is associated with an increased risk of sexual and reproductive health problems with both immediate and long term consequences.
The foregoing was among the information shared by PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr. William Adu Krow, during an ‘In-service Violence Against Women’ training workshop. The three-day forum, which commenced yesterday, is being held at the Kingston, Georgetown Marriott Hotel.
According to Dr. Adu Krow, the impact of sexual violence on mental health can be as serious as its physical impact and may be equally long lasting. He noted that “deaths following sexual violence may often be as a result of suicide, HIV infection or murder…the latter occurring either during a sexual assault or subsequently.”
Even as he considered that Guyana has had to battle with a troubling suicide scourge for a number of years, Dr. Adu Krow highlighted that “we have had a very high age-standardised death rate for suicides…Thank God it fell from 44.2 per 100,000 to 28.6 per 100,000 and that is a massive fall.”
But continuing on the subject of sexual violence, Dr. Adu Krow pointed out that according to the World Health Organisation, over the last decade, intimate partner violence or sexual violence against women has been widely recognised as a public health and human rights problem.
He noted that studies in both developed and developing countries indicate that between 20 and 67 percent of women globally experience violence in relationships.
“Intimate partner violence, particularly the abuse of women by their male partners, is among the most common and dangerous forms of gender based violence,” the PAHO/WHO Rep said. “Women become targets by virtue of their relationship with a male abuser and the violence is inflicted on them usually but not exclusively within the home. Violence is also inflicted upon children, whether they are witnesses to abusive behaviours or are themselves victims,” he said. But there are also cases of sexual violence against men. Acts of violence are not only meted out to the female gender, Dr. Adu Krow noted.
There is a vast difference between violence against men and violence against women, he added.
The PAHO/WHO Rep. underscored that women are overwhelmingly the victims.
“More often than not when there is violence against men, the men get to live in the same house and they get to go about their daily lives and virtually they move on…However violence against women it doesn’t get better it gets worse till they are killed,” Dr. Adu Krow said.
As such he emphasised that it is imperative that more attention is directed to violence against women and girls.
As he addressed yesterday’s forum, Dr. Adu Krow noted, “I am glad that we are having this workshop.” He stressed the need for health care workers, in particular, to be able to identify cases of violence when confronted with them.
Ensuring that health workers are more proficient in dealing with such matters is therefore the intended aim of the ongoing workshop. But the target participants are not only health officials drawn from the various regional public and private health institutions, but officials from the child care division of the Social Protection Ministry, ranks of the Guyana Police Force and nursing tutors of Regions Four, Six and 10.
Recognising cases of violence at an early stage could essentially help to save lives and by extension serve to improve the life expectancy rate of a nation. It was with this in mind that the Ministry of Public Health decided to collaborate with PAHO/WHO to host the workshop.
Speaking at its opening ceremony Chief Medical Officer [CMO], Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, disclosed that in the Health Vision 20/20 of the Public Health Ministry, health across the life-course has been identified as a critical area that needs to be addressed so that the country’s health goals can be met.
But despite the deliberate efforts underway, Dr. Persaud admitted that “we still struggle to attain life expectancy here comparable to the other Member States of the Americas and maybe the world.”
“We are doing worse off for men but we also need to improve the lives of women as they are important, not only in the forms of contributions to the society, but overall in the development of a healthier Guyana.”
In the quest for a healthier Guyana, the CMO noted that the issue of violence must be given close attention. Such issues, he underscored, oftentimes confront mental health practitioners and the primary health care staff in particular.
He noted that this situation is one that could impact areas such as Maternal and Child Health as well as areas relating to sexual and reproduction health. “We have some issues that do determine that the outcome in health for women may not be as desired,” Dr. Persaud emphasised.
“The face of violence is quite a big face and we really want to reduce the impact that it causes altogether.”
But addressing the issue of violence is a very broad-based task. The CMO explained that “for most people, when you talk about violence [with them], the first thing they think about is the physical ‘beating-up’ and so on.
“But in health we have recognised there are several other forms of violence that could be just as detrimental and just as devastating when it comes to the person’s wellbeing.”
He made reference to psychosocial, social forms of violence as well as economic violence and in doing so pointed out that “a lot of the time women are deprived and this is a main concern for us here. They are deprived sometimes of financial and other resources to attend to what their basic needs are and sometimes that can put them at risk of many different health conditions that impact on their lives.”
Dr. Persaud amplified the need for health workers to be sensitised to detect issues of a violent nature. “It is not always that somebody will come and it is obvious that they were beaten and you can take action…but we have to be careful in identifying these because there is a lot of psychological stress that goes along with violence,” the CMO underscored.
“Regardless of your level in society, it is a very difficult situation to deal with and a lot of persons withhold disclosing what the true nature of the situation is…and that is something that we as health workers have to start understanding and we have to start to approach those situations in a more professional manner.”
The workshop, which was graced by, Ms. Colette Adams, Permanent Secretary [ag] of the Public Health Ministry, who also spoke of the impact of violence in the society, is being facilitated by PAHO/WHO sourced experts.
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