Letters to the Editor

Time to manage intimate partner violence in Ja

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

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Dear Editor,

Congratulations are due to everyone who has participated in producing the Jamaica Women's Health Survey (JWHS) 2016 which was recently launched. The research has pulled back the curtain on the intimate partner violence (IPV) that women and girls face in relationships with their male partners, as well as from non-partners.

The survey reveals, for example, that some 5.1 per cent of Jamaican women experience physical violence during pregnancy. Over 20 per cent of these women were reportedly kicked or punched in the abdomen during pregnancy. For many of them, beatings increased during pregnancy as well. The prevalence of this abuse is slightly higher among women living in urban over those living in rural areas.

It was found that in the vast majority of cases (86.8 per cent), the perpetrator was the child's father; and in 74. 1 per cent of cases, he had beaten the mother before the pregnancy. It was also found that women who started living with men from an early age (18 years old or younger) were twice as likely to be beaten in pregnancy than women who had not. Victims/survivors of IPV during pregnancy also had a higher lifetime prevalence for emotional abuse than other women.

JWHS 2016 does not explore the impact of IPV on pregnancy. However, studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) have established that, generally, both mother and child are negatively affected. Many women subjected to IPV during pregnancy fall into negative patterns of behaviour, for example, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and delay seeking prenatal care. According to the WHO's research, other effects include low birth weight, pre-term labour and delivery, insufficient weight gain, obstetric complications, sexually transmitted diseases, miscarriage, and unsafe abortions.

A 2017 article, 'Antenatal depressive symptoms in Jamaica associated with limited perceived partner and other social support: A cross-sectional study', by The University of the West Indies academics, among them professors Affette McCaw-Binns and Maureen Samms-Vaughan, reported on the Jamaican Birth Cohort Study (JA-Kids Birth Cohort), which included 3,517 women enrolled during pregnancy. The study revealed that Jamaican women exposed to physical abuse during pregnancy show more emotional distress. About one-third of pregnant women who experienced IPV had mental health concerns. They concluded that, despite inadequate availability of data to explore IPV, it was clear that exposure to violence was associated with depressive symptoms among mothers in this cohort. This finding, they said, was consistent with results from many other researchers.

The impact of IPV on pregnancy is clearly an area for deeper exploration. More also needs to be done to address IPV's root causes.

It is necessary for us as a society to take measures to eradicate the pervasive occurrence of IPV in Jamaica. We should, instead, mobilise men's involvement and support to ensure that the experience of pregnancy and childbirth is safe, healthy and positive for all involved.

Linnette Vassell

Advocacy Specialist

Maternal, Neonatal and Infant Health

Women's Resource and Outreach Centre


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