Tackling Gender Based Violence

Gender-Links, alcohol and Ministry of Health

‘Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Mauritius is intergenerational and conservative gender attitudes are at the core of drivers of violence against women. Other factors found to exacerbate GBV in Mauritius are alcohol and in-law interferences’

The Minister of Health and Quality of Life (MOH), Hon Lormus Bundhoo, sent a good signal by being present at the launch of the ‘War@Home – Mauritius Country Report’ by Gender-Links Mauritius (GL) last week. In collaboration with other ministries, MOH has in place in its Regional Hospitals special arrangements for the victims of Gender Based Violence (as also for children who are victims of abuse, sexual or other e.g. battered children).

However, given the findings in the report, there is scope for MOH to be further involved, because by addressing an issue which is of direct concern to it, namely alcohol, it can produce some effective results in a relatively shorter time scale. Let us clarify by quoting from the website of GL: ‘Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Mauritius is intergenerational and conservative gender attitudes are at the core of drivers of violence against women. Other factors found to exacerbate GBV in Mauritius are alcohol and in-law interferences.’ (bold added)

The point we are making is that it will take longer to change ‘intergenerational and conservative gender attitudes’ as well as ‘in-law interferences’ than, in our view, to treat alcoholism, which is essentially a disease. Of course, all the other measures recommended in the Report, in particular those about awareness, must be implemented as promptly as possible. But since MOH already has a very active campaign all the year round through its mobile clinics and other health promotion activities and networks covering the whole island, these platforms could be used simultaneously not only to support GL’s awareness campaigns, but also to add one specifically targeting alcoholism.

In fact, one of the findings of the Report is that men who abuse alcohol are 6 times more likely to indulge in violence against their partners than those who do not drink, so it more than makes sense to address the alcohol abuse problem head on. Even one single woman victim of GBV is too much – we cannot imagine that there is anyone who would dispute this! So whatever measure can contribute, especially in the shorter than the longer term, to prevent any violence against women should be implemented in earnest.

Combating alcohol abuse is one such measure, and GL should solicit Hon. Lormus Bundhoo’s goodwill to push this agenda – if only because at MOH they probably have all the evidence-based strategies and interventions worked out. Besides, there can be a multiplier effect of wider benefit because of the multifarious socially adverse effects of alcoholism, that is those extending beyond the health dimension. In other words, health interventions as a tool can be an important entry point to tackle not only the health problems associated with alcohol abuse, but other problems too, GBV being a critical one.

What with Gender-Linksbeing re-organised and a new chairman having been appointed, it can be given a fillip by a GL-MOH partnership to kickstart something anew that has the potential to really make a difference both in women’s lives and on society at large.

It is telling that ‘about a quarter (24%) of women in Mauritius have experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime including partner and non-partner violence. An almost similar proportion of men (23%) admit to perpetrating violence against women in their lifetime. One in twenty-five women (4%) experienced gender-based violence and a similar proportion of men (4%) perpetrated gender violence in the 12 months before the survey. Most of the violence occurs within intimate relationships. Almost a quarter of ever-partnered women (23%) have experienced while 22% of men perpetrated Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in their lifetime.’

Let us hope that the presence of Hon Lormus Bundhoo at the launching of the Report would not have been in vain. Should he decide to tango with GL in this important mission, he will without doubt have the full blessing and support of his leader, Prime Minister Dr Navin Ramgoolam, who in his message has stated unequivocally:

‘Gender-based violence is human rights violations and reflects inequality between women and men. Such violence has profound implications on the health, dignity, security and autonomy of those affected not only the victims but also the entire family (bold added). Unfortunately this is often ignored. The indicators compiled in collaboration with the Mauritius Research Council, review attitude and behavioural problems that prevail in our society. They are an important source of information and may serve as guidelines for our policy development. Mauritius has ratified several important human rights instruments and has signed, amongst others, the SADC Declaration on Gender and development. My Government is fully committed to continue working towards an inclusive, harmonious and peaceful society. Creating the appropriate legislative and institutional framework for gender equality and family welfare, will remain high on our agenda.’

GL and MOH should not miss out on this kind of robust political commitment coming from the very highest level.

* Published in print edition on 7 December 2012

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