Academics, researchers, practitioners and millions of people from around the world
participated in the violence against women campaign that ran from 25 November—International
Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—to 10 December—Human Rights Day.
The campaign called “16 Days of Activism against Gender‐Based Violence” is an annual
event that connects these two important dates and reminds the world that violence
against women is a human rights issue. Therefore, this is an opportunity to write
on the issue of gender‐based violence and its various forms to draw the attention
of nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals’ and the readers of Nursing
Open to this subject.
The United Nations (1993) defines violence against women as “any act of gender‐based
violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm
or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation
of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (United Nations, 1993).
More recently, in the UK, the definition was revised to include controlling and coercive
control referring to: “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or
dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and
capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence,
resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour” (Home Office, 2012).
Therefore, any “act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation
or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim” is an example
of coercive control, and a punishable offence in the UK (Home Office, 2012).
Of course, men can also be victims of violence, although available evidence suggest
that frequency, severity and intensity of such violence is much greater for women
than men. Also, in most cases, the perpetrator of abuse is usually someone known to
the woman with current or former intimate partner and other family members likely
to be the most common perpetrator. Women are subjected to various acts of violence
in all aspects of life. It happens in public as well as private, at home, in the street,
in the office, in peace and in war. It takes many forms, including physical, psychological
and sexual abuse. It affects girls and women of all ages, in the form of female infanticide,
female genital mutilation, child marriage, grooming, trafficking, forced marriage,
honour killing, domestic violence and intimate partner violence. It is associated
with significant physical, emotional and mental health impacts. It not only has an
impact on the lives of women experiencing it, but also negatively affects their children.
Disclosing abusive experiences to health and social care practitioners or police is
not straightforward for women as it can create a sense of shame, embarrassment, powerlessness
and hopelessness (Briones‐Vozmediano, Agudelo‐Suarez, Goicolea, & Vives‐Cases, 2014;
Ortiz‐Barreda et al., 2014). However, there are subgroups of women who may experience
additional difficulties when it comes to seeking support and these include older women
(McGarry, Ali, & Hinchliff, 2017; McGarry & Bowden, 2017; Straka & Montminy, 2006),
women from minority ethnic background (Ortiz‐Barreda et al., 2014; Stockman, Hayashi,
& Campbell, 2015), women with disabilities (Dixon & Robb, 2015; Khalifeh et al., 2015)
and those in institutional setting.
In recent years, a lot has been done to recognize and criminalize the issue by developing
appropriate laws against it, although implementation of these laws is still challenging
in many parts of the world. At the same time, a lot has been done to increase awareness
of the general public as well as healthcare professionals about the issue in an attempt
to prepare practitioners to identify and respond appropriately to those who need help.
However, much still needs to be done.
We know that healthcare professionals including nurses and midwives work in diverse
settings and can contribute by recognizing the manifestations and referring victims
to appropriate sources of help and support (Ahmad, Ali, Rehman, Talpur, & Dhingrra,
2016). They need to be able to provide empathetic and supportive care to those who
may be experiencing abuse to enable them to seek help and support. Nurses and other
healthcare professionals need appropriate knowledge and skills to enable this. Active
listening, an empathetic and non‐judgemental attitude and an awareness of one's own
values and beliefs related to violence against women, prejudice and biases is necessary.
Those nurses working in leadership positions can play their part by contributing to
the development and implementation of appropriate policies, guidelines and legislations.
Finally, nurses’ work and role exposes them to additional pressures as they not only
care for those experiencing abuse, but at times, may have to care for those who perpetrate
abuse on others and in such situations having self‐awareness, emotional intelligence
and a knowledge of professional codes of conduct is useful. Identifying and helping
perpetrators who recognize their behaviour and would like support to change their
behaviour is also essential and nurses and healthcare professionals can do that by
referring them to appropriate support programmes. Violence against women is a complex
and multifactorial issue needing a multisectoral and ecological approach to deal with
it and we as healthcare professionals can play a very important role in preventing