EVERY year, the world commemorates 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence from 25 November to 10 December.

More specifically, November 25 is a commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And December 10, is commemorated as the Human Rights Day.

By definition, gender-based violence (GBV) is violence targeted at individuals, or groups on the basis of their gender.

While research suggests that a significant proportion of women will at some time in their lives experience GBV, the extent to which men and boys are affected is not known.

According to the World Health Organisation, up to 70 percent of women allegedly experience physical and, or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in life.

Unfortunately, women living in poverty are particularly vulnerable. They generally face difficulty in accessing health and legal services needed to mitigate the effects of GBV.

In some countries, violence against women is estimated to negatively cost countries up to 3,7 percent of their gross domestic product.

And the figure is more than double what most governments normally spend on education, according to the World Bank.

In 1991, the Women’s Global Leadership Institute keenly initiated the inaugural commemoration of the 16 Days of activism against GBV.

Since then, the initiative has increasingly become a global organising strategy in the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

The global 16 Days campaign is essentially underpinned by feminist values, human rights principles and the belief that a world without violence is possible.

And accordingly, this year’s theme is “Orange Africa: Action to guarantee women’s safety”.

In Africa, a surge in GBV cases has been observed recently. And this has been widely attributed to the unprecedented Covid-19 lockdown measures.

As a result, the social safety nets and networks women previously relied on have since been eroded due to reduced physical mobility and pronounced social distancing.

And woman who face violence from their intimate partners are desperately forced to stay locked with their abusers.

On the face of it, gender-based violence is a global pandemic that harmfully affects one in three women in their lifetime.

According to research, 35 percent of women across the globe have desolately experienced either physical and, or sexual intimate partner violence, or non-partner sexual violence.

Worldwide, seven percent of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner.

According to global statistics, 38 percent of women murder cases are allegedly committed by an intimate partner.

And 200 million women have reportedly experienced female genital mutilation, according to the World Bank.

Across the globe, sexual and female reproductive health issues are generally under threat from the scourge of gender-based violence.

The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Nevertheless, gender-based violence severely affects the physical, psychological and social well-being of survivors.

Of note, physical health consequences of GBV include bruises, cuts, black eyes, concussions, and broken bones.

Abuse can also lead to miscarriages and permanent injuries, such as damage to joints, partial loss to hearing or vision, and scars from burns, bites, and knife wounds.

In addition, battered women often suffer chronic headaches, abdominal pains, muscle aches and recurrent vaginal infections.

Sexual and reproductive health consequences of violence against women include genital injuries, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Subsequently, victims suffer from diseases such as human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Complications of sexually transmitted infections may include traumatic fistula, genital injuries, pregnancy complications and cancer of the reproductive organs.

For many women, however, the psychological effects of GBV are more debilitating than the physical effects.

Mental health impacts for survivors of GBV commonly include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders, drug and substance abuse, self-harm and suicidal behaviour, and sleep disturbances.

Additionally, a survivor of gender-based violence may also face stigma and rejection from her community and family.

However, critical and sensitive interventions for sexual assault or rape can be provided if services are sought on time.

Critically, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy – within the first 120 hours. And Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) essentially prevents HIV infection – within 72 hours of possible exposure.

More importantly, health care practitioners can equally provide first-line psychological support for the survivors and referral to additional services.

Even after the recommended 120 hours, health services can potentially provide important care and referral services to survivors.

Henceforth, health care services providers must professionally provide a listening ear, inquire about the needs of survivors and validate what the survivor is saying.

And crucially, health care providers should typically know how to enhance safety and support – the critical components of first-line support.

On the other hand, governments must significantly improve the capacity of the health sector to deliver holistic services to gender-based violence survivors and enhance prevention.

Primarily, the activities must include strengthening the health cluster responses to gender-based violence, updating technical and normative guidelines and tools.

As the world continues to grapple with the unprecedented coronavirus lockdowns, let us shun gender-based violence in all spheres of life.

Everisto Mapfidze is a registered general nurse who holds Bsc Honours in Sociology (UZ). For feedback: [email protected] or Whatsapp +263774042111.