International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
Statement by Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General, World Health Organization
On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the World Health Organization reaffirms its commitment to address the causes and consequences of violence against women. In doing so, WHO joins women’s groups, activists, civil society, sister UN agencies, and the many individuals working around the world to end violence against women. This objective was the clear call made earlier this year when the United Nations Secretary-General launched his campaign to eliminate violence against women.
This is a fight for the right of women and girls to live free of violence, and it needs to take place on multiple fronts. Awareness of the problem and its consequences is the starting point, as marked by today’s events. Political commitment provides the enabling environment. Evidence is the foundation for building awareness, securing commitment, and knowing what to do.
The right to freedom from violence includes the right to freedom from the multiple health consequences. Studies have linked violence against women and girls to a host of physical, reproductive, and mental health problems. Physical injuries range from broken bones to chronically impaired health.
Reproductive health consequences include gynaecological disorders, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and difficulties during childbirth. Violence before and during pregnancy has serious health consequences for both mother and child. Violence contributes to high-risk pregnancies and pregnancy-related complications, including miscarriage, pre-term labour, and low birth weight.
Mental disorders, including depression, and impaired social functioning frequently follow physical violence and sexual abuse. These effects add to the high costs of violence against women, which are borne by all of humankind.
Violence against women touches every level of society in every part of the world. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. WHO studies indicate that domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women worldwide.
Although found throughout the world, violence against women tends to be most common in settings where the power relationship between men and women is unequal, with violence operating as a social mechanism for forcing women into subordinate positions. This is true whether the violence is inflicted by an intimate partner, a family member, an authority figure, or a stranger.
On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we need to raise our voices in an outcry against this injustice. We know the magnitude of the problem, the deep-rooted social causes, and the multiple consequences, especially for health. We are beginning to understand what needs to be done to stop violence against women. Promising public health strategies include changing attitudes that foster violence and gender inequality, helping women to become financially independent, strengthening the self-esteem of women and girls, and reducing excessive alcohol consumption.
Above all, we need to raise our voices against attitudes and behaviours that tolerate or even ignore violence committed against women. On this occasion, let us all strengthen our resolve to end violence against women and girls, and stop the needless damage to their physical, mental, and social well-being.