Pregnant women and health workers’ perspectives on perinatal mental health and intimate partner violence in rural Ethiopia: a qualitative interview study

Roxanne Keynejad, Tesera Bitew, Adiyam Mulushoa, Louise Howard, Charlotte Hanlon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Mental health conditions are common during the perinatal period and associated with maternal, foetal, and neonatal morbidity and mortality. There is an established bidirectional relationship between mental health conditions and intimate partner violence (IPV), including during and after pregnancy. Mean lifetime prevalence of physical, sexual or emotional IPV exposure among women in rural Ethiopia is estimated to be 61% and may be even higher during the perinatal period. We aimed to explore the perspectives of women and antenatal care (ANC) health workers on the relationship between all types of IPV and perinatal mental health, to inform the adaptation of a psychological intervention for pregnant women experiencing IPV in rural Ethiopia.

We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 16 pregnant women and 12 health workers in the Gurage zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region of Ethiopia, between December 2018 and December 2019. We conducted thematic analysis of English-translated transcripts of audio-recorded Amharic-language interviews.

Participants contextualised IPV as the primary form of abusive treatment women experienced, connected by multiple pathways to emotional and bodily distress. Patriarchal norms explained how the actions of neighbours, family, community leaders, law enforcement, and government agents in response to IPV often reinforced women’s experiences of abuse. This created a sense of powerlessness, exacerbated by the tension between high cultural expectations of reciprocal generosity and severe deprivation. Women and health workers advocated a psychological intervention to address women’s powerlessness over the range of difficulties they faced in their daily lives.

Women and health workers in rural Ethiopia perceive multiple, interconnected pathways between IPV and perinatal emotional difficulties. Contrary to expectations of sensitivity, women and health workers were comfortable discussing the impact of IPV on perinatal mental health, and supported the need for brief mental health interventions integrated into ANC.
Original languageEnglish
Article number78
Number of pages78
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2023


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