Action Towards Gender and Health Justice

Matilda Okech
Posted July 23, 2013 from Kenya

Social determinants of health are imperative aspect of health that anchors in a society’s general health and also play a key role in primary preventive health. Gender, defined by the societal roles of male and female, has been a challenging discourse that affects social health directly and indirectly. Gender based violence is a pervasive hidden epidemic in Africa that is associated with physical, sexual and emotional distress. Its effects cuts across the societies but those majorly affected are the children and women. It is usually perpetuated by masculinity and need to dominate posing inferiority in the victim. The affected lose their human rights and accessing justice becomes a great challenge due to fear, stigma and negative cultural beliefs and practices. Cultural beliefs and practices have contributed immensely on the chronic impacts of gender based violence. Harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation cause complications like haemorrhage, shock, infections, ulceration of the genitals, incontinence, pregnancy related complications amongst many others. These pose a lifetime threat to the woman’s health and eventually affect her psychological, economic and social wellbeing. Early marriage, that is, when a girl is not psychologically and physiologically prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing also affects a girl’s health. Others forms of abuse include rape, battering, slavery, child trafficking, denial of rights, all of which affect the health of the victims thereby making achievement of justice and health for all a mere mirage. The effects of gender based violence have put a surge in the health system due to the endless list of complications like abortions, gynaecological disorders, miscourages, mental distress, suicidal attempts, unintended pregnancies, HIV/AIDS/STIs and many others. Though the first point of contact of survivors has usually been informal networks including friends, family and neighbour probably due to fear, shame and stigma, they urgency to which they respond to is largely compromised by the accommodative societal norms. This indicates one of the reasons for delay in receiving essential emergency care and legal justice. There has also been a gap in professional expertise in dealing with gender and health. A multifaceted approach in training all the relevant stakeholders e.g. health care providers, community, police and the legal expert is lacking to deal with the matter in a holistic way. This calls for exploration of new strategies towards effective campaign methodologies with an aim of empowering vulnerable groups to seek assistance and demand for their rights through a right based approach, promoting equity in gender, challenging discriminatory norms and stigmatizing attitudes, prompt access to justice, promoting widespread social change and emphasizing on preventive health. The thematic areas of address should be able to address; zero tolerance ratification and implementation of policies, protection and change of service delivery actions, development of guidelines on treatment protocols and human rights amongst other issues. The possible strategy of action for change should be result oriented. Action towards achievement of gender and health justice should focus on some of the areas listed below. • Engaging key stakeholders: - community mapping of various stakeholders at the community, national and leadership level for a call to take action, this promotes a multi-sectoral approach in dealing with the problem and enhances inclusion. A multifaceted programming that promotes systemic comprehensive community response that seeks to meet people’s particular needs. Community mobilization towards positive change beyond awareness to non-tolerance of gender based violence and health injustice in order to promote ownership of the process by the community. • Selecting issue: - this involves prioritizing gender issues in relation to health, severity, urgency considering their root causes and magnitude of immediate and long term impacts • Understanding the political context: - political will must be sought if gender and health justice is to be achieved. Identification and winning political leaders who are change driven and are willing to lobby for enactment of gender legislative laws • Building evidence base: - rigorous data collection and interpretation, formative research works on the problem magnitude must be conducted and their impact communicated to the masses to promote an urgent call to action. • Seizing opportunities: - The action should target at a distribution strategy that ensures information is distributed to a large number with the highest impact. Appropriate timing for action is key to achieving highest impact • Communication: - should aim at media interviews, mass campaigns, workshops, working with groups and organizations with similar agendas to harness and consolidate resources towards action. Using social marketing and internet based advocacy

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