Gender, women and health

Women and men united to end violence against women and girls

International Women's Day 2009

Statement by Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General, World Health Organization

On the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, WHO will join the international community to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women, past, present and future. This also offers an opportunity to focus attention on what remains to be done to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women in line with Millennium Development Goal 3.

The theme this year is "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls". This theme highlights the fact that our best efforts must also engage men and address unequal power relations and social norms that condone this violence. This requires strong partnerships between women and men at international, national, community and household levels.

Violence against women touches every level of society in every part of the world. It can take many forms across the life course, from violence against the girl child to elder abuse in older women. 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 have shown that domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women worldwide. These studies have linked violence against women and girls to a host of physical and mental health problems ranging from broken bones to pregnancy-related complications, to depression and impaired social functioning.

Preventing violence against women requires a multi-sectoral approach, and in this context the health sector has a central role to play. This role includes helping to identify abuse early, providing victims with the necessary treatment, and referring women to appropriate and informed care. 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.

The World Health Organization reaffirms its commitment to contribute to addressing the causes and consequences of violence against women. In doing so, WHO joins sister UN agencies, women’s groups, activists, civil society, and many individuals working around the world to end violence against women. This is also the objective of the United Nations campaign, launched by the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, in early 2008 to eliminate violence 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.