Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Recognising Gender Violence as a Public Health Issue

“Violence against women and girls directly affects individuals while harming our common humanity,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on the International Day for Elimination of All Kinds of Violence Against Women. What it also harms is the health of the survivors.
A recent WHO report says, “Violence against women is a significant public health problem, as well as a fundamental violation of women’s human rights.” But often, we tend to view gender violence simply as individual and isolated incidents – a view that needs to change in order to tackle this massive problem effectively, especially considering the increasing incidence of crimes against women in India.
*Source: NCRB
One of the chief reasons why experts advocate a public health approach to gender violence is to put the thrust on prevention rather than cure. Dr V Kanagasabai, Director Medical Education and Dean, MMC, says the issue needs to be tackled at a policy level. “We have had campaigns in the past to promote women's education, better food habits, educating the girl child etc, which have been fairly successful in achieving their stated goals. We need a similar approach now to tackle gender violence; it must be seen as a public health issue at the policy level,” he says.
Experts believe that recognizing gender violence as a public health issue will also help the Govt achieve some of its existing goals, namely bringing down the Maternal Mortality Rate, which stands at 212 (2008-09).
Dr Kanagasabai says, “Due to their heavy workload, sometimes doctors don't have the time to listen to their patients carefully enough. It is important for us to adopt an empathetic attitude in cases of gender violence, and to identify it for what it is. Doctors and paramedics should be aware of how to treat them. Awareness should also be created for the public on the legal options available, as well as on the punishment for sexual crimes.”
What is also needed is to set up counseling services for victims and their families to help them through the trauma. Every stakeholder must be aware of the gravity of the situation, and treat every individual case with sensitivity.
As the WHO study puts it, “There is a clear need to scale up efforts across a range of sectors, both to prevent violence from happening in the first place and to provide necessary services for women experiencing violence.”

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