Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Linnette Vassell | Take intimate partner violence seriously

Published:Saturday | July 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Linnette Vassell

Congratulations are due to everyone who has participated in producing the Jamaica Women's Health Survey 2016 that was recently launched. The research has pulled back the curtain on 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. More than 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 settings compared with 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.

The Women's Health Survey 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, preterm labour and delivery, insufficient weight gain, obstetric complications, sexually transmitted infections, 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 UWI academics, among them Professor Affette McCaw-Binns and Prof Maureen Samms-Vaughan, reported on the Jamaican Birth Cohort Study (JA-Kids Birth Cohort), which included 3,517 women enrolled during pregnancy.


Emotional distress


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. Patriarchy and the gender system on the one hand, and on the other, the use of violence to resolve conflict - are clearly implicated. Both are deeply embedded in Jamaican culture. These factors and their possible connection to maternal mortality are considerations driving the interest of the European Union-funded maternal, neonatal, and infant health project in IPV and pregnancy.

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 persons involved.

- Linnette Vassell is advocacy specialist of maternal, neonatal and infant health at the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre. Email feedback to