Responding to domestic violence in Timor

New research demonstrates the urgent need for a primary health care response to domestic violence in East Timor given the magnitude of the issue.

La Trobe University and National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL) have launched a report into the issue as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence global campaign. The report outlines recommendations on how health providers, particularly midwives, can work with families to reduce violence.

Lead researcher Dr Kayli Wild from La Trobe University said there is now substantial evidence of the extent and effects of domestic violence, but less is known about how to support health workers in dealing with these complex cases.

“A recent national survey shows that nearly half the women of reproductive age in Timor-Leste have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in the past year,” Dr Wild said.

“Midwives are the primary health providers for women. They may have experienced violence themselves and are well positioned to provide information and support.”

Over six months, the researchers conducted interviews and focus groups with midwives and members of the community in areas of Timor-Leste where rates of violence are high.

“We found that midwives have good knowledge of the health effects of violence. For example they understand how the stress caused by violence can damage the mental and physical health of women and harm unborn babies and children,” Dr Wild said.

“But their response to that violence was largely uninformed. For example, they knew little about the law against domestic violence and the protection it could offer women and children.”

Other key issues raised include:

  • Midwives recognised fertility as a major risk factor, with women bearing the brunt of violence when the couple couldn’t conceive.
  • They described how difficult it was for women to open up about violence, because of the fear it would make the violence worse.
  • Midwives wanted more skills to be able to deal with the cases of violence they were seeing.

“Midwives and other health workers need a uniform response to this pervasive issue. If we can enable them to provide social support and put them in contact with other services, we can make a huge impact,” Dr Wild said.

The researchers are working together with health faculty leaders at UNTL, who are looking to develop an undergraduate medical and midwifery curriculum which integrates the recommendations from the report. The findings will also be key to the Ministry of Health and INS to inform a primary health care response.

Photo: United Nations Photo, source: Flickr

Media Contact: Briena Barrett 0432 566 014

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