On 22nd November 2014, Sama organized a consultation on ‘Strengthening Response to Sexual Violence by the Health Sector’ in Delhi. There were 37 participants, which included Doctors from Government hospitals, representatives from 181 helpline, DCW helpline and other organizations. The resource persons for the event were; Dr. Renu Arora, Associate professor and consultant at Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, VMMC & Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, Adv. Seema Mishra, Lawyer working on human rights issues, including issues of gender based violence, Dr. Jagadeesh Reddy, Forensic Medicine expert, Bengaluru, and member of the drafting committee of the MoHFW protocols and guidelines, and Adv. Shubra Mendiratta, co-ordinator of Rape Crisis Cell, Delhi Commission for Women.
Sama has a long standing commitment in the area of gender based violence and has always maintained its position in considering gender based violence as a public health issue. In its attempt to strengthen the linkages between gender based violence and healthcare system, Sama carried out an assessment of public hospitals in Delhi to understand their readiness to respond to the survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence. The study aimed towards consolidating knowledge about the existing practices, challenges and looking at ways of strengthening inter-linkages and responses in the future. Based on the needs and outcomes of the assessment and Sama’s past engagement on the issue this consultation was organized.
Findings of this study are based on interviews with health care providers from 22 hospitals in and around Delhi. Some of the key findings that emerged from this study were discussed in detail with the health care providers during the consultation. The consultation also deliberated on building linkages with other service providers; on legal provisions with regard to sexual violence and domestic violence.
The first session commenced with welcome address and round of introductions. The second session focused on the relevance and overview of legal framework, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) protocols and guidelines, the changes in laws pertaining to sexual violence and its implication on healthcare response. The session commenced with the presentation by Sama’s representatives who briefly shared the key findings and emerging concerns from the assessment done by Sama with 22 public hospitals in Delhi. The next presentation was given by Dr. Renu Arora who shared experiences of Safdarjung Hospital’s response to survivors of sexual violence. Advocate Seema Mishra reflected on the laws pertaining to sexual violence and child sexual abuse and the implications of the changes in laws on healthcare’s response to the survivors. Dr. Jagadish N. Reddy presented an in-depth understanding on the current practices within the health care system in responding to the survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence. He also highlighted the framework of MoHFW protocols and guidelines to address the gaps and concerns in practices and strengthen the response to the survivors of sexual violence. This session was followed by discussion wherein issues and concerns were raised and queries were answered. Majorly these discussions revolved around issues regarding the role of the healthcare provider in providing comprehensive care to the survivor, provision of treatment and process of medical examination. There were queries around the implications of new changes in laws such as mandatory reporting to the Police v/s survivor’s right to treatment and care, biased and unethical practices like commenting on past sexual history and conducting ‘two finger test’. The healthcare providers also pointed out the dilemmas confronted by them while responding to the survivors of sexual violence for which they sought clarifications during the discussion.
The next session focused on strengthening the linkages between the health care providers/facilities and service providing agencies. The first presenter for this session was Advocate Shubra Mendiratta, who focused on the initiatives and services provided by Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) and how DCW provides psycho-social and legal support for women in distress. After this Ms. Muneera and Ms. Zareena discussed on the initiatives taken by 181 helpline service for women in distress.
The event was concluded with the thank you note to the resource persons and the participants for their contribution and making the consultation successful. It was emphasized that this consultation is a beginning step towards more consistent engagement with the health system, especially at the state level, towards a more gender sensitive, ethical and standard care response to survivors of gender based violence. It was emphasized that there was a need for engagement of the healthcare fraternity to advance advocacy around ethical and standard practices towards the survivors.