This is the fourth part of a IH Blog series featured this summer, Intimate Partner Violence: Global Burden, Risk Factors and Outcomes.
Written by: Ewinka Romulus MPH and Dr. Heather de Vries McClintock PhD MSPH MSW
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) continues to be a serious global public health concern affecting millions of women (and in some cases, men). IPV refers to any harmful behavior within an intimate relationship that includes physical, psychological or sexual harm. Existing research suggests that different types of violence often coexist. For instance, we tend to see physical IPV often accompanied by sexual IPV and emotional abuse. While the extent of IPV varies across regions, higher prevalence exists amongst poorer countries and within communities of a lower socioeconomic level. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports a higher prevalence of IPV among African, Eastern Mediterranean, and South-East Asia Regions (approximately 37%). Whereas, lower rates of IPV are found among women in European and Western Pacific regions.
To date, different theories and models have been used to explain IPV behavior within communities. The most widely used model for understanding intimate partner violence is the Social-Ecological Model which considers the complex interaction between the individual, relationship, community and societal factors that may influence IPV. The societal level identifies broad societal factors including social and cultural norms, health, economic, educational, and social policies, which may create an environment where IPV is either encouraged or inhibited. Researchers are continuously examining the factors associated with IPV at these different levels and factors.
Relying on this conceptual framework interventions and strategies to address IPV globally require a multi-level approach. Accordingly, the World Health Organization’s Global Plan of Action to Address IPV 2016, calls for a multi-sectoral approach in which strategies for addressing IPV occur on all levels of the Social-Ecological Framework (e.g. individual, relationship, community, etc.). The goal of this plan is to strengthen the role of the health system in all settings and within a national multisectoral response to develop and implement policies and programmes, and provide services that promote and protect the health and well-being of everyone, and in particular, of women, girls and children who are subjected to, affected by or at risk of interpersonal violence. The plan calls for several actions that respond to and prevent gender-based violence against women and girls (VAWG). These include “creating an enabling legal and health policy environment that promotes gender equality and human rights, and empowers women and girls; provision of comprehensive and quality health-care services, particularly for sexual and reproductive health; evidence-informed prevention programmes promoting egalitarian and non-violent gender norms and relationships; improving evidence through collection of data on the many forms of VAWG and harmful practices that are often invisible in regular surveillance, health and crime statistics.”
Several countries, such as Uganda, India, and Nigeria have integrated multiple approaches encompassing the key principles mentioned above. For instance, in Uganda, an organization called Raising Voices works to prevent violence against both women and children. Raising Voices focuses on transforming attitudes and behaviors to promote gender equity in communities through a tool called SASA!. SASA! is a well-known intervention that has been adapted and implemented across regions, namely, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The SASA! intervention includes four steps: Start, Awareness, Support, and Action which focus on educating communities through a series of activities that address the importance of power and awareness in relationships. A recent evaluation of SASA! in Uganda demonstrated a significant reduction in the reported level of physical partner violence against women. In Haiti the MDG Achievement Fund partnered with local women’s organization to establish health clinics and provide counsel and care for victims of violence. Local leaders are trained to educate and spread awareness about domestic violence within communities and to report a witnessed crime to local authorities. The MDG Achievement Fund partners with UN Women to create educational and socio-economic opportunities for vulnerable women to increase economic independence and autonomy. There has also been an increase in the number of One-Stop Crisis centers worldwide to help recent victims of violence.
Contextual factors shape the etiology and manifestation of IPV and thus effective interventions differ within communities and across countries. Programs that employ models that are specific to cultural norms while including community members have been found to be effective in addressing IPV. In addition, structural and systematic intervention strategies (economic, social, political, and physical) to reduce IPV or its impact may also be essential to reduce IPV’s global burden (Bourey C, 2015). An example, of an issue embedded in underlying structural and systemic inequities is that may be potentially modified to improve IPV is that of literacy. Regions with lower literacy levels show a higher prevalence of IPV among women. One study conducted in Ethiopia (Deyessa, 2010) found illiterate women were more likely to justify the reasons for a man beating his wife, compared to literate women. The study also found that literate women with a literate spouse were least likely to have experienced physical violence compared to literate women with an illiterate spouse. Similar findings were reported in a study in India (Ackerson, 2008) in which women residing in neighborhoods with high literacy rates were were less likely to experience IPV. Literacy can also have an important impact on other indicators of well-being entwined with outcomes for IPV such as contraceptive knowledge and use. In our recent work we found that literacy was significantly associated with the utilization of modern contraceptives (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 1.166, 95% CI = 1.015, 1.340). Thus, interventions that seek to modify systemic and structural components that influence literacy may have important implications for IPV.
Intimate partner violence is a common problem worldwide that needs to be addressed incorporating contextual needs. The World Health Organization calls for a collaborative, coordinated and integrated response for addressing this significant public health issue. It is evident that interventions should be multi-sectoral and a comprehensive approach should aim to address IPV implications on individual, relationship, community and societal levels.
Ewinka Minerva Romulus, MPH is a recent graduate from Arcadia University’s MPH program. Her master’s thesis focused on the influence of literacy on contraceptive knowledge and use among women in Swaziland. Prior to her graduate career, she studied Bio-behavioral Health at the Pennsylvania State University where she gained an understanding of the interactions among biological, behavioral, psychological, sociocultural, and environmental variables that influence health. Ewinka gained interest in global health after observing the existing issues around poverty, health, and inequality in her own country – Haiti. She is planning on continuing her studies at Drexel University in the fall of 2018 to obtain a certificate in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Her current interests are in women’s health, global health, and nutrition. Her global health experience includes traveling to Guatemala with Mayanza Organization to provide health education and health screenings to school-children. She is also involved in organizations in Haiti with a mission of eradicating many communicable diseases. During her free time, Ewinka enjoys reading, traveling, and learning to play the guitar.
Dr. Heather F. de Vries McClintock is an IH Section Member and Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health, College of Health Sciences at Arcadia University. She earned her Master of Science in Public Health from the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. McClintock received her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on health behavior and promotion. Her research broadly focuses on the prevention, treatment, and management of chronic disease and disability globally. Recent research aims to understand and reduce the burden of intimate partner violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to completing her doctorate she served as a Program Officer at the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and a Senior Project Manager in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania. At the University of Pennsylvania she led several research initiatives that involved improving patient compliance and access to quality healthcare services including the Spectrum of Depression in Later Life and Integrating Management for Depression and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Studies.