Dr Mazvita Machinga
AS Zimbabweans join the world in commemorating 16 days of activism against Gender-based violence (GBV), the question is what are you doing? What actions are you taking as individuals, families and communities to stop GBV from occurring?
It is saddening that Gender-Based Violence happens all over the world. And so, it is vital to remember that it is everyone’s duty to stop GBV and protect those affected. But what really is Gender-Based Violence?
Gender-Based Violence is the general term used to capture violence that occurs because of the role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society. (Bloom 2008, p14).
It encompasses any form of violence no matter in which context or setting they occur. GBV means harmful acts carried out against a person. It means any acts of violence that result in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering of individuals, including threats of such acts, work place harassment, coercion or intentional deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. While GBV mostly affects women and girls, as they are in many cultures marginalised and have little or no power to make important decisions about their lives, men and boys are also affected.
What usually happens when one experiences GBV?
Survivors of GBV face different levels of trauma depending on the kind of incident they experience. There is no formula for how a person will react and be affected by GBV. Each person responds differently depending on the form, gravity and frequency of the violent acts.
The effects range from long-term health problems in case of sexual violence, including the possible transmission of HIV and other STIs. Some survivors of GBV can also suffer several psychological consequences including a sense of self-blame, a loss of trust, a loss of self-esteem, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and in some cases, suicidal thoughts and behaviours. There can also be serious social consequences for survivors such as rejected by their partners, families and communities. Some may even lose their jobs.
Mental health Effects of GBV
As a psychotherapist, psychological effects of GBV become a great concern for me. Violence is known to be one of the causes of mental health problems. High rates of psychological distress and mental disorders have been documented in survivors of violence.
Individuals may have difficulty in concentrating, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, shortness of breath, anger outburst, avoidance behaviour and detachment from others and many more.
There are various approaches and techniques that address these psychological and emotional challenges.
My first responsibility as a clinician is to sensitively and confidently identify from survivors, symptoms that can indicate GBV and encourage disclosure so that survivors can get help and medical care. This is not an easy task since most survivors find it hard to disclose their experiences.
But with safe space, care, empathy and professionalism, individuals can disclose. If symptoms are not addressed timeously, there may be fatal outcomes or in the long-term adverse health outcomes. GBV can result in individuals’ deaths. So, it is important affected individuals get help as soon as possible.
Obligation to respond to gender based violence
I categorise GBV response in two phases namely prevention and responsive interventions. In prevention work, we should aim to change harmful behaviours within communities and put an end to GBV at its root causes through education and creating discussion forums at all levels of society.
The second approach is response work. We need to provide access to quality psychological support, legal services for GBV survivors, and life-saving medical care where it is needed. It is everyone’s responsibility to act in addressing GBV and not just watch seeing people’s lives being destroyed. There is need for combined efforts by all stakeholders such as civic society, religious organisations and Government agencies to help people access specialised programming guidance on stopping GBV and specialised psychosocial support. Do your part and save lives. Stop Gender-based violence. What are you waiting for?
Dr Mazvita Machinga is a qualified psychotherapist and mental health consultant based in Mutare. For professional counselling and psychological support or if you have experienced or are experiencing any form of gender based violence, call 0778 83 84 10 / 0771 754 519 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for professional help.