IDS working papers;312

Painful tradeoffs : intimate-partner violence and sexual and reproductive health rights in Kenya

Published on 1 January 2008

Intimate-partner violence involves multiple violations of sexual and reproductive
rights, with devastating impacts on the health and wellbeing of those affected.
This paper is the result of an action-research collaboration between a Kenyan
gender-based violence rehabilitation NGO and a research programme. Qualitative
and descriptive quantitative analysis of seven years of client records were carried
out to investigate women’s experiences of intimate-partner violence and their
responses to it. The paper departs from the observation that international human
rights, while profoundly conceptually relevant to Kenyan women, are frequently
practically irrelevant to their lives. Instead, various and often contradictory forms of
rights, or legitimate claims, co-exist and interact in personal beliefs, in social
relationships and in national legal and judicial systems. We therefore seek to
contextualise rights in the lives of women affected by intimate-partner violence, to
understand how they are articulated and constrained in each of these dimensions.
We find that physical and sexual abuse within relationships often leads to
repeated exposure to sexual and reproductive health risks, and abused women
lack knowledge about these impacts, experience feelings of hopelessness about
their health, and are unable to access the health services they need. Economic
factors lead many women to subordinate their sexual and reproductive rights to
their material needs and those of their children. There are limitations to the
recognition of rights in both social attitudes and in the national legal framework.
Social networks and justice institutions sometimes support individuals in
exercising their rights and sometimes obstruct them. Legal reform, and
strengthened services and referral systems are needed if the barriers to women’s
rights are to be overcome. Measures to facilitate access to sexual and
reproductive health services and to address forms of vulnerability in ongoing
abusive relationships are needed to help those affected to end the violence and
mitigate its impacts.
Keywords: intimate-partner violence; sexual and reproductive health; rights;
service delivery; Kenya.

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