Addressing the Impact of Gender-Based Violence on Health Care

Lady in room listening to a health provider talking to her
A significant proportion of women who seek care from private health care providers have experienced GBV.  | Credit: Javier Acebal

During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the global health community can reflect on gaps in the health systems’s response to this issue and find opportunities. SHOPS Plus recognized that addressing gender-based violence (GBV) improves the well-being of individuals and their societies, and directly affects health outcomes. Our work with private providers positions us to address the issue with some who see its impact up close.

One in three women worldwide has experienced gender-based violence in their lifetime—a figure that can be significantly higher depending on the city, country, or region. This means that a sizable proportion of women who seek care at the drug shops, pharmacies, and private clinics have had their lives impacted in untold ways. 

Every day, private providers witness the negative consequences of GBV in the faces of those they serve—whether it’s the woman assaulted by her husband, the girl suffering from genital cutting, or the boy beaten for not conforming to gender stereotypes. Gender-based violence has a profound impact on health. It can contribute to HIV prevalence, cause unintended pregnancies, and increase the rate of maternal injury and death, in addition to leading to other detrimental physical and emotional outcomes. As a substantial proportion of clients are served by private providers, we work to ensure that they also benefit from best practices in GBV prevention, response, and referral protocols.

Essential part of quality care

In many countries, the public health sector responds to global commitments around GBV through the development of national policies, protocols, and training curricula that give public providers the skills to address this issue and hold them accountable.  While this is encouraging, the most significant challenge to building an effective private sector response to GBV is that the vast majority of private providers (doctors, midwives, pharmacists, and others) operate independently without a governing structure that can mandate appropriate protocols. Most providers and business owners must take voluntary action based on the recognition that GBV undermines their effectiveness. Even then, appropriate attention to GBV—including counseling, post-rape exams, emergency contraception, and referral for medical and psycho-social services— requires training and accountability systems that for most private sector providers do not yet exist.

SHOPS Plus helps identify opportunities for private sector providers to better address GBV. For example, in Senegal, we trained project representatives and partners on gender integration, including a module on GBV. Given the incidence of sexual violence targeting school girls, project staff sought to incorporate compassionate responses in their programming for youth. 

Compassionate and appropriate attention to GBV is an important part of quality care. While there is still much we need to learn about the provider knowledge, attitudes, and practices relative to GBV, we continue to scale up effective responses and look for ways to integrate them into health care protocols. Stopping violence against women and girls improves their lives, strengthens communities, and enables us to achieve health goals.

Learn more about how SHOPS Plus is working on gender issues. 

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Sustaining Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS) Plus is a five-year cooperative agreement (AID-OAA-A-15-00067) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This website is made possible by the generous support of the American people through USAID. The information provided on this website is not official U.S. government information and does not represent the views or positions of USAID or the U.S. government.

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