By Dr. Habil Otanga et al. / MAINline
Gender-based violence (GBV) is caused by systemic gender inequalities and encompasses all acts of physical, emotional, sexual and psychological violence perpetuated against a person due to their gender (UNHCR, 2020). It is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, or sexual violence perpetrated by a non-partner (WHO, 2013a). Prevalence is estimated to be higher in sub-Saharan Africa (Pack, L’Engle, Mwarogo, & Kingola, 2014).
Although a number of studies have investigated GBV, including both intimate and nonintimate partner violence in the general population and among sex workers, relatively few studies have investigated the experience of GBV among women who use drugs (WWUD). Data on the prevalence of GBV and its underlying factors among this vulnerable group therefore remains relatively sparse and anecdotal. Considering literature that has found links between intimate partner violence, substance use, sexual decision making and HIV/AIDS, there is a gap in evidence on vulnerable populations especially WWUD in sub-Saharan Africa. This study therefore seeks to explore the lived experiences of WWUD and their children in Kenya, in relation to different types of GBV; and structures that perpetuate GBV among this population.
Physical abuse intersected with psychological control and included demands to stay indoors, violence, humiliation e.g. tearing of clothes or destroying WWUD’s personal and other effects sometimes in front of a victim’s family or their children. The reasons ranged from stealing partner’s money or drugs, suspicion of unfaithfulness, stealing from clients, partner’s frustration at WWUD for not earning money from sex work, refusing partner selling household goods, and rejection of partner’s forceful demands for sex.
Physical abuse was aimed at ensuring control and dependence of partners. Psychological abuse took many forms including family isolation and feelings of diminished worth, and was normalised by WWUD. Children of WWUD also suffered psychological abuse through separation from their mothers and direct verbal abuse from others.