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Women experiencing gender-based violence and the compassionate presence of nurses

Mrs Avhatakali Mphephu embarked on master’s degree studies on the sensitive topic of gender-based violence. She recognised that gender-based violence is an increasing problem, especially in rural areas, having serious consequences for women. She also argued that professional nurses providing care to women exposed to gender-based violence may have the wisdom to support women, and a caring presence approach may have a positive influence on the experience of the professional nurse as well as on the well-being of the women.

Mrs Mphephu’s study thus aimed to explore and describe the experiences of professional nurses working in a rural area in primary health clinics, community health centres, outpatient departments and emergency departments when caring for women experiencing gender-based violence. She conducted a qualitative, interpretive phenomenological study, through having in-depth conversations with 15 professional nurses.

The findings resemble the reality of gender-based violence in rural areas. Participants felt compassion for women experiencing gender-based violence and were willing to provide quality health care, but worked in difficult environments where there is limited privacy. They felt at a loss to provide help for such an overwhelming problem, and they felt overloaded with work. They realised that the world these women lived in made it difficult for them to disclose that they are experiencing gender-based violence, as cultural and socio-economic circumstances made them dependent on their husband and family-in-law. Sadly, participants disclosed that they also experience gender-based violence and that they too felt caught in a situation where they are expected to protect the honour of their husband and their marriage, honouring the cultural value of being subordinate to their husband, and being financially dependent on their husband. Limited collaboration among the multidisciplinary team and other stakeholders furthermore contributed to these dire circumstances. Participants experienced the need to be guided in practising presence, through which they could provide relational care to women experiencing gender-based violence.

Based on the findings of the study, Mrs Mphephu recommends that infrastructure at health care facilities be updated, to ensure that women have safe and private spaces in which they feel free to share their problems and disclose gender-based violence. She also recommends that nurses receive debriefing to attend to their well-being, as well as training on the assessment and nursing management of women experiencing gender-based violence and on relational care and presence. Finally, she advocates for a strengthened referral system and stronger collaboration among multidisciplinary team members for a unified response against gender-based violence.

Mrs Mphephu is graduating in August 2021, and a copy of her mini-dissertation will be available at the North-West University’s repository for completed theses and dissertations. She wrote an article, which is currently in review by the journal, Health SA Gesondheid, for publication in a special edition on gender-based violence.

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