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16 Days of Action - VAWG in Marginalized Communities




By Maegan McCane


Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is an issue that continues to be perpetuated and

reproduced worldwide. The United Nations (UN) defines VAWG as:


'…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 and girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or

arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. Violence

against women and girls encompasses, but is not limited to, physical, sexual and

psychological violence occurring in the family or within the general community, and

perpetrated or condoned by the State.'


In the UK, VAWG’s definition covers crimes such as domestic abuse including homicide,

sexual assault, stalking, sexual exploitation, child abuse, female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, and harassment in work and public life. In the UK, there are about 2.3 million victims, aged 16 to 74, of domestic abuse each year (Elkin, 2022). Two-thirds of these are women. Women and girls from Black and minority ethnic communities (BME) experience higher levels of VAWG. (Siddiqui, 2018). Black Caribbean and Black African women and girls

experience higher instances of domestic homicide and abuse-driven suicide, and they are more subject to culturally specific VAWG practices, such as FGM or forced marriage.

Generally, experiencing VAWG comes with a host of health problems. The World Health

Organization (2021) describes VAWG as taking the form of physical, mental, behavioral, and/or

sexual and reproductive violence.


Physical Sexual and reproductive

• acute or immediate physical injuries, such as

bruises, abrasions, lacerations, punctures,

burns and bites, as well as fractures and

broken bones or teeth

• more serious injuries, which can lead to

disabilities, including injuries to the head,

• unintended/unwanted pregnancy

• abortion/unsafe abortion

• sexually transmitted infections, including


HIV

• pregnancy complications/miscarriage

• vaginal bleeding or infections

eyes, ears, chest and abdomen

• gastrointestinal conditions, long-term health

problems and poor health status, including

chronic pain syndromes

• death, including femicide and AIDS related

death


• chronic pelvic infection

• urinary tract infections

• fistula (a tear between the vagina and

bladder, rectum, or both)

• painful sexual intercourse

• sexual dysfunction


Mental Behavioral

• depression

• sleeping and eating disorders

• stress and anxiety disorders (e.g. post-

traumatic stress disorder)

• self-harm and suicide attempts

• poor self-esteem

• harmful alcohol and substance use

• multiple sexual partners

• choosing abusive partners later in life

• lower rates of contraceptive and condom use


As we see, VAWG has significant and long-lasting impacts on one’s physical health. A

woman or girl could be exposed to injury or other physical harm, unwanted pregnancy or

pregnancy complications, sexually transmitted infections, or even death. VAWG is extremely

detrimental for one’s mental health. Those experiencing any type of VAWG will often have

mental health issues such as depression or anxiety and can be at higher risk for suicide.

People experiencing sexual violence or sexual exploitation violence can deal with sexual

dysfunction or have anxiety around sex and intimacy. These women and girls are at increased

risk for urinary tract infections, incontinence, constant pain, pain during and difficulty having

sex, repeated infections, which can lead to infertility bleeding, cysts, and abscesses, and

problems during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth, which can be life threatening for mother and

baby (National Health Service, 2022).


How Can We Help Women and Girls Experiencing VAWG?

Addressing VAWG requires an effort from multiple parts of society. First, we need to

understand the impact VAWG has on the health and well-being of women and girls. We also

need more empathetic and caring health workers who understand what is needed for a truly

survivor-centred response. Many minority ethnic women and girls express the wish for services that are catered towards them. Creating those services and integrating them into existing health services will do nothing. Finally, from a logistics standpoint, addressing VAWG means having a set protocol in place, referral networks that actually work, and documentation, monitoring, and evaluation of existing services to see how they can be improved on.


Not only will improving VAWG services help change the lives of those affected, it will be

nothing but a net benefit to society as a whole. Economically, VAWG costs states millions of

pounds a year, primarily in policing and social services; one in ten calls to the police are about

domestic violence. The social impact of VAWG cannot possibly be measured economically, but instead can be measured in suffering, loss, pain, and trauma. Improving VAWG services can help to stop traumatic instances before they begin or further escalate. Targeted domestic violence policy, therefore, should be a top priority for the government. In 2021, the UK passed legislation that directly addresses and allocates more resources to VAWG. The Domestic Abuse Act of 2021 is a landmark piece of legislation and is a good first step, but as a society, we need to go further in our policy decisions that address VAWG.

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