Annually an estimated one million pregnant Pakistani women are physically abused at least once during pregnancy by their partners.
This was said by Prof Unaiza Niaz, the president of the Women Section of World Psychiatric Association and director of the Institute of Psycho-Trauma Pakistan, while delivering a lecture on Gender issues and Women’s Mental Health at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) here on Friday.
Prof Niaz said research indicated strong association between gender-based violence and mental health. Depression, anxiety and stress-related syndromes, dependence on psychotropic medications and substance use and suicide were mental health problems associated with violence in women’s lives, she added.
She was of the view that women experienced mental illnesses differently than men and the illnesses could affect women at any time regardless of age, race or income. She further said common disorders affecting women included depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, postpartum and bipolar disorders, adding that nearly twice as many women as men were affected by depression or anxiety disorder.
Prof Niaz observed that negative effects of globalisation and economic reforms on public health had hit women harder than men. “More than one billion people, mostly women, are living in extreme poverty and the change in the trend makes few experts feel the onset of ‘feminization’ of poverty.”
She further said that in Pakistan, societal attitudes and norms, as well as cultural practices such as Karo Kari and Vani severely affected women’s mental health. Religious and ethnic conflicts, along with the dehumanising attitude towards women, the extended family system, role of in-laws, represented major issues and stressors, Dr Niaz said, adding: “Gender discrimination at each stage of the female life cycle contributes to health disparity, sex selective abortions, neglect of girl children, reproductive mortality, and poor access to healthcare for girls and women.” She stated that risk of depression in women was higher during the childbearing years. She said women were also vulnerable to depression during the period immediately after childbirth.