Research Article: “Staying for the children”: The role of natal relatives in supporting women experiencing intimate partner violence during pregnancy in northern Tanzania – A qualitative study

Date Published: June 1, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Geofrey Nimrod Sigalla, Declare Mushi, Tine Gammeltoft, Cassandra Nichole Spracklen.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198098

Abstract

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global health and human rights problem. In Tanzania, national studies have shown that half of all women experience partner violence in their lifetime, 38% reported being abused during a period of 12 months and 30% during pregnancy. Despite the benefits of social support to women victims of violence during pregnancy, a majority of women hesitate to seek help and, if they do, they mainly turn to their natal relatives for support. However, this process of help-seeking and the type of support received is not well documented and needs to be explored with a view to future interventions. This article investigates women’s own perspectives on the support they receive from natal relatives when experiencing IPV during pregnancy.

Eighteen participants who experienced physical IPV during pregnancy were purposively selected from a cohort of 1,116 pregnant women enrolled in a project that aimed at assessing the impact of intimate partner violence on reproductive health. In-depth interviews were used to explore the social support received from the natal family among women who experienced partner violence during pregnancy. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, coded and analyzed.

Women who experienced severe IPV during pregnancy were more likely to seek help from natal relatives. Severe violence was defined by the women as acts that occurred frequently and/or resulted in injury. The women’s natal relatives were willing to provide the support; however, they strongly encouraged women to maintain their marriage so that they could continue caring for their children jointly with their partners. Emotional support was the commonest form of support and included showing love and empathy and praying. Information provided to victims aimed mainly at advising them to maintain their marriage. Practical support included direct financial support and building their economic base to reduce dependency on their partners. When the couple was on the verge of separation, mediation was provided to save the marriage.

Women who experienced partner violence preferred to seek help from their natal relatives. The support provided by natal relatives was beneficial; however, maintaining the marriage for the care of children and family was given the highest priority, over separation. As a consequence, many women continued to live with violence. Stakeholders supporting victims of violence need to understand the priorities of victims of violence and structure intervention to address their needs.

Partial Text

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global health and human rights problem that include physical, sexual and psychological harm [1]. IPV disproportionately affects women relative to men [2]. Globally, one in three women report having experienced IPV in their lifetime, with prevalence higher in African countries [3]. In Tanzania, recent studies estimate the lifetime prevalence of IPV to range from 39 to 65% [4–6]. A population-based survey done in 2015 showed that half of ever-partnered women aged 15–49 years had experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and 38% reported being abused during a period of 12 months prior to the survey [5]. The Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey 2015 further showed that the prevalence of physical and sexual violence was 39% and 14% respectively.

Women who are exposed to IPV during pregnancy hesitate to seek help and if they do, they are most likely to turn to their natal relatives for support. Women victims of partner violence were more likely to seek help if they considered the violence to be severe and especially when it was associated with trauma or injury. However, natal relatives and women victims of partner violence preferred to maintain their marriage. In that regard, the support provided to women victims of partner violence was geared towards making them manage the violence and continue staying in their relationship.

This study has found that many women who are exposed to IPV during pregnancy hesitate to seek help and, if they do, they are most likely to turn to their natal relatives for support. The natal relatives are willing to provide support, though they strongly encourage women to maintain their marriage so that they continue caring for their children jointly with their partners. Emotional support was the most common form of support provided and included showing love, empathy and praying. Information was another form of support and it aimed mainly at encouraging the women to maintain their marriage so as to care for their children. Practical support included direct financial support and building their economic base to reduce dependency on their partners. When a couple was on the verge of separation, reconciliation or mediation was provided by the natal family to save the marriage. This indicates that in this cultural setting of northern Tanzania, people tend to give children and family the highest priority. As a consequence, it is likely that many women will continue to live in violent domestic situations. Stakeholders supporting victims of violence in Tanzania and similar areas need to understand the fears and priorities of victims of violence and structure interventions to address these priorities, for instance by offering legal assistance in child custody cases; helping women to become financially independent; conducting communication campaigns to address the stigma that surrounds separation; or, legal assistance for women who prefer to stay in their marriages, offer counseling on how to handle marital difficulties. Given the key role of natal relatives in providing support to women who live with IPV, it is important that not only the women themselves, but also their natal relatives are actively involved by stakeholders in interventions that aim to assist women who experience partner violence.

 

Source:

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198098