Gender, women and health

WHO’s response to the challenge to end violence against women and girls

Responding to the challenge

WHO is committed to strengthening the health sector response to sexual violence, including in crises. Critical to this is the work undertaken by WHO headquarters and regions to develop normative guidance and tools, build capacity, and provide support to countries. This work involves several departments: Health Action in Crises, Gender, Women and Health, Reproductive Health and Research, Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability and Child and Adolescent Health and Development.

Beyond the landmark WHO Multi-Country Study on Women's Health and Violence Against Women, which provided important evidence to raise awareness about the problem, WHO has moved now to address primary prevention as well as health sector response to end violence.

WHO is preparing a technical guidance document on the primary prevention of intimate partner and sexual violence. The guide is designed to assist policy makers and programme planners in their efforts to design, implement and evaluate interventions to stop intimate partner and sexual violence from occurring in the first place, and its content has been informed by an April 2007 expert consultation on the topic. The guide will be published in the second half of 2009, and will be a joint publication of WHO, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

As a complement to this, WHO is also preparing a technical guidance document on the health sector response to intimate partner and sexual violence. An expert consultation will be held in March 2009 and will review the existing evidence and country experiences – challenges faced, lessons learned in order to develop some initial recommendations and inform the next steps of such a document. Related to this is an inter-agency initiative that will specifically look at programmatic interventions to address violence against women in the context of HIV/AIDS programmes.

WHO will continue to stimulate and support as feasible research to build evidence on prevention and response to this violence. We are founders and active members of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative which seeks to address the specific gap in this area.

WHO published last year a review of what works with men to address gender inequality and health inequities. This review of evidence included a section on violence. An expert consultation in 2007 provided recommendations for how HIV testing and counselling programmes can take into account and address violence against women. This is part of broader WHO efforts to harmonize work on sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and violence against women.