STUDY SPOTLIGHT Gender-based violence during perinatal care: the experience of women and healthcare providers


Approximately one third of women around the world have experienced gender-based violence. In Canada, 51% of women over the age of 16 have experienced physical or sexual abuse.

“Many women might not even know they have [experienced gender-based violence],” explains Dr. Mirlashari. “It is very interesting that the definition of gender-based violence could be completely different based on society and family culture, religion, and values.”

This is in part due to the many types of abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, social, verbal, spiritual, mental, cultural, and financial – and in part due to different understandings of what constitutes abuse.

Dr. Mirlashari points to the example of patriarchal cultures where fathers, husbands, or brothers are expected to have control over the women in their lives. Growing up with these social expectations can lead women to miss signs of abuse, which means they may not report them to a healthcare provider.

Further, the role of stigma – even in Canada – can be a major barrier for women to feel comfortable discussing gender-based violence.

Dr. Mirlashari is currently conducting interviews with women who have experienced gender-based violence and pregnancy in the past five years, as well as interviews with healthcare providers who are involved with perinatal care, to understand why these barriers persist and how healthcare providers can better care for patients who experience gender-based violence.

“[This work is] important because [gender-based violence is] very common all around the world, and we as healthcare providers are advocates of our patients’ rights. We have to feel more responsible…not just pay attention to the biomedical aspects of their life.”

Both women and healthcare providers are being asked questions about expectations for care, communication, and how to promote care that is sensitive to the many cultures that make up Canadian society. The second phase of research will involve analyzing data and developing a set of guidelines for Canadian healthcare providers that reflects the diverse voices of Canadian women.

If you are interested in participating in this study, contact Jila Mirlashari.

Jila Mirlashari completed her PhD in nursing at Tehran University of Medical Sciences. In 2016 she completed a two-year fellowship with UNICEF on Individualized Newborn Developmental Care and was trained under direct supervision of professor Heidelise Als from Harvard University. In 2019 she moved to Canada to begin working with Dr. Lori Brotto. She has worked on 24 projects, supervised 32 students at the level of PhD and Masters Degrees, and published 35 research papers on topics spanning pediatric and neonatal health, addiction, sexual addiction among young women, and self-immolation as a form of protest. Her work documenting the story of Iranian women living with substance use disorder received a WHO (Branch of Women) travel award in 2010.