Intimate partner violence a dire threat to pregnant women in some SA communities
A great many South African women‚ already in difficult situations‚ are experiencing violence during pregnancy at the hands of their intimate partners‚ a new study has found.
Of the 376 women who took part in the research‚ 15% had experienced intimate partner violence during pregnancy‚ with forms of abuse ranging from sexual and physical to emotional and verbal.
This is against a backdrop of SA’s having an intimate partner violence level (among all women‚ not just those who are pregnant) "double that of the US" — as high as 71% in some communities.
Just published in the international BMC Women’s Health journal‚ the study was carried out by a team from the University of Cape Town and the University of Waterloo‚ Canada.
The sample was drawn from women attending antenatal services at a primary-level maternity facility in Cape Town.
The researchers found that the high level of violence during pregnancy resulted from a combination of poverty-related factors including food insecurity‚ mental ill-health‚ unemployment‚ unwanted pregnancies and past experiences of abuse.
"In its most severe form‚ violence against pregnant women has been reported as a contributing cause of maternal deaths‚" researchers Sally Field‚ Michael Onah‚ Thandi van Heyningen and Simone Honikman said.
It has also been associated with "inadequate uptake of antenatal care‚ with abused women being more likely to delay seeking pregnancy care and to attend fewer antenatal visits".
For mothers and their unborn babies‚ results can include "low birth weight‚ foetal death by placental abruption‚ antepartum haemorrhage‚ foetal fracture‚ rupture of the uterus and premature labour".
Also‚ they add that a "strong association" had been shown between thoughts of suicide and violence experienced by pregnant women.
They said that in SA‚ "high levels of violence occur within a context of multiple contributing social dynamics. These include prominent patriarchal norms where masculinity is associated with defence of honour‚ harshness and risk taking".
They added: "Poverty and gender inequalities contribute to the structural determinants of violence.
"Women in stable but unmarried relationships were more likely to have reported experiencing intimate partner violence than those who were married."
The researchers say the study has contributed towards a greater understanding of the risk profile for intimate partner violence among pregnant women in low-income settings.