Gender, women and health

WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women

Preface

Violence against women by an intimate partner is a major contributor to the ill-health of women. This study analyses data from 10 countries and sheds new light on the prevalence of violence against women in countries where few data were previously available. It also uncovers the forms and patterns of this violence across different countries and cultures, documenting the consequences of violence for women’s health. This information has important implications for prevention, care and mitigation.

The health sector can play a vital role in preventing violence against women, helping to identify abuse early, providing victims with the necessary treatment, and referring women to appropriate care. Health services must be places where women feel safe, are treated with respect, are not stigmatized, and where they can receive quality, informed support. A comprehensive health sector response to the problem is needed, in particular addressing the reluctance of abused women to seek help.

The high rates documented by the Study of sexual abuse experienced by girls and women are of great concern, especially in light of the HIV epidemic. Greater public awareness of this problem is needed and a strong public health response that focuses on preventing such violence from occurring in the first place.

The research specialists and the representatives of women’s organizations who carried out the interviews and dealt so sensitively with the respondents deserve our warmest thanks. Most of all, I thank the 24 000 women who shared this important information about their lives, despite the many difficulties involved in talking about it. The fact that so many of them spoke about their own experience of violence for the first time during this study is both an indictment of the state of gender relations in our societies, and a spur for action. They, and the countries that carried out this groundbreaking research have made a vital contribution.

This study will help national authorities to design policies and programmes that begin to deal with the problem. It will contribute to our understanding of violence against women and the need to prevent it. Challenging the social norms that condone and therefore perpetuate violence against women is a responsibility for us all. Supported by WHO, the health sector must now take a proactive role in responding to the needs of the many women living in violent relationships. Much greater investment is urgently needed in programmes to reduce violence against women and to support action on the study’s findings and recommendations.

We must bring the issue of domestic violence out into the open, examine it as we would the causes of any other preventable health problem, and apply the best remedies available.

LEE Jong-Wook
Director-General, World Health Organization

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