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RHO archives : Topics : Men and Reproductive Health

IGWG Theme Statement: Gender-based Violence and Reproductive Health

"Gender-based" violence—directed at women and girls by men—results in large part from womens subordinate status in society. All cultures have beliefs, norms, and social institutions that legitimize discrimination against women, and perpetuate physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence against women. Acts that would be punished if directed at employers, neighbors, or acquaintances often go unchallenged when men direct them at women in the context of the home and family. This is because marriage is interpreted in many parts of the world as granting men the right to unconditional sexual access to their wives and the power to enforce this access through force, if necessary.

Violence by intimate partners and sexual coercion undermine womens sexual and reproductive autonomy and jeopardize their health and well-being. Women who lack sexual autonomy often are powerless to refuse unwanted sex or to use contraception and thus are at risk of unwanted pregnancies, STIs and HIV. Gender-based violence, both psychological and physical, increases womens long-term risks of various other health problems as well, including chronic pain, physical disability, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression.

Reproductive health professionals—many times among the first outsiders to whom women will reveal violent circumstances at home—often do not recognize, do not ask about, or do not know how to address instances of violence. The reproductive health field is attempting to respond to this need through additional sensitizing and training of health workers, developing referral networks, developing negotiating skills in women and men, and constructively involving men in identifying ways to be more supportive of womens autonomy and health.

At the community level, select programs are making efforts to bring about more equitable gender relations, changing the norms that support violence against women. A few community and mens groups have conducted training for men, encouraging positive deviance and services for men who want to seek help to avoid domestic violence. Womens organizations are partnering with judicial and law enforcement systems, health services, community groups, policy-makers, and international organizations to identify and respond to widespread gender-based violence.

This statement draws heavily on Heise, Lori, Mary Ellsberg, and Megan Gottemoeller. 1999. "Ending Violence Against Women." Population Reports Volume XXVII, Number 4, December.

Spindel, Cheywa, Levy, Elisa and Melissa Connor. 2001. "With an End in Sight strategies from the UNIFEM Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence Against Women." NY: UNIFEM.

Solorzano, Irela and Oswaldo Montoya. 2001. "Men Against Marital Violence: A Nicaraguan Campaign." Managua, Nicaragua: Fundacion Puntos de Enccuentro.

USAID Inter-Agency Gender Working Group, Subcommittee on Men and Reproductive Health, March 2002

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