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Faculty of Community Services

Harnessing the health sector to stem an epidemic of intimate partner violence against women

tara collins


sepali guruge

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global public health issue, with one in three women worldwide at risk. In Sri Lanka, the prevalence rates of IPV vary between 25% and 80%, depending on the socio-demographical and geographical context.

Sepali Guruge, research chair in Urban Health and professor in the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, led a recent study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, that examined this topic in the Western and Eastern provinces in Sri Lanka, with community leaders and women participants who had experienced IPV. The findings highlighted multiple barriers in caring for women, and the important role health-care professionals can play in helping women. As a follow-up, she conducted a project that examined the role of nurses in caring for Sri Lankan women experiencing IPV. “Our findings revealed an urgent need for the health-care system to respond to nurses’ educational and training needs as well as the importance of interprofessional collaboration in improving care for Sri Lankan women facing IPV,” says Guruge.

These studies led to her current project, funded by the International Development Research Centre, to strengthen existing research networks and build new relationships with community, academic and policymaker partners in Sri Lanka and Canada. “Our aim is to generate new knowledge to inform practice and policy changes to improve IPV-related care and services to women in Sri Lanka,” she says. The research findings have been published in Tamil and Sinhala, making them accessible to nurses, midwives and doctors, as well as other women who may not necessarily be fluent in English.

Building on her clinical background as a mental health nurse and researcher in the areas of gender, violence and immigration, Guruge is now leading a study, funded by the Movember Foundation, to reduce mental illness stigma among immigrant men in Asian communities in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Guruge, with Josephine Wong and Souraya Sidini, also Ryerson nursing professors and principal investigators, as well as with a team of researchers, are assessing the effectiveness of two anti-stigma interventions: Acceptance Commitment Training and Contact-Based Empowerment Education. “The stigma of mental illness is prevalent across all communities and societies, but the preva-lence and the impact of stigma are more in marginalized communities. Our study aims to reach more than two thousand immigrant men and is the first to address mental illness stigma among immigrant men in Canada at this scale,” Guruge says.