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Intimate partner violence in the post-war context: Women's experiences and community leaders' perceptions in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka

Sepali Guruge, Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, Colleen Varcoe, Vathsala Jayasuriya-Illesinghe, Mahesan Ganesan, Sivagurunathan Sivayogan, Parvathy Kanthasamy, Pushparani Shanmugalingam, Hemamala Vithanarachchi
PloS One 2017, 12 (3): e0174801
28362862

BACKGROUND: Exposure to armed conflict and/or war have been linked to an increase in intimate partner violence (IPV) against women. A substantial body of work has focused on non-partner rape and sexual violence in war and post-war contexts, but research about IPV is limited, particularly in Asian settings. This paper presents the finding of a study conducted in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. The study explored women's experiences of and responses to IPV as well as how health and social service providers perceive the problem. It also explored the IPV-related services and supports available after the end of a 30-year civil war.

METHOD: We conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with 15 women who had experienced IPV and 15 service providers who were knowledgeable about IPV in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Interviews were translated into English, coded and organized using NVivo8, and analyzed using inductive thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Participants described IPV as a widespread but hidden problem. Women had experienced various forms of abusive and controlling behaviours, some of which reflect the reality of living in the post-war context. The psychological effects of IPV were common, but were often attributed to war-related trauma. Some men used violence to control women and to reinstate power when their gender roles were reversed or challenged due to war and post-war changes in livelihoods. While some service providers perceived an increase in awareness about IPV and more services to address it, this was discordant with women's fears, feelings of oppression, and perception of a lack of redress from IPV within a highly militarized and ethnically-polarized society. Most women did not consider leaving an abusive relationship to be an option, due to realistic fears about their vulnerability to community violence, the widespread social norms that would cast them as outsiders, and the limited availability of related services and supports.

IMPLICATIONS: These findings revealed the need for more research about IPV in post-war contexts. Women's experiences in such contexts are influenced and may be masked by a complex set of factors that intersect to produce IPV and entrap women in violence. A more nuanced understanding of the context-specific issues that shape women's experiences of IPV- and community responses to it-is needed to develop more comprehensive solutions that are relevant to the local context.

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