Gender, women and health

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


Violence against women is a universal phenomenon that persists in all countries of the world, and the perpetrators of that violence are often well known to their victims. Domestic violence, in particular, continues to be frighteningly common and to be accepted as “normal” within too many societies. Since the World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the same year, civil society and governments have acknowledged that violence against women is a public policy and human rights concern. While work in this area has resulted in the establishment of international standards, the task of documenting the magnitude of violence against women and producing reliable, comparative data to guide policy and monitor implementation has been exceedingly difficult. The WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women is a response to this difficulty.

The Study challenges the perception that home is a safe haven for women by showing that women are more at risk of experiencing violence in intimate relationships than anywhere else. According to the Study, it is particularly difficult to respond effectively to this violence because many women accept such violence as “normal”. Nonetheless, international human rights law is clear: states have a duty to exercise due diligence to prevent, prosecute and punish violence against women.

Looking at violence against women from a public health perspective offers a way of capturing the many dimensions of the phenomenon in order to develop multisectoral responses. Often the health system is the first point of contact with women who are victims of violence. Data provided by this Study will contribute to raising awareness among health policy-makers and care providers of the seriousness of the problem and how it affects the health of women. Ideally, the findings will inform a more effective response from government, including the health, justice and social service sectors, as a step towards fulfilling the state’s obligation to eliminate violence against women under international human rights laws.

Violence against women has a far deeper impact than the immediate harm caused. It has devastating consequences for the women who experience it, and a traumatic effect on those who witness it, particularly children. It shames states that fail to prevent it and societies that tolerate it. Violence against women is a violation of basic human rights that must be eliminated through political will, and by legal and civil action in all sectors of society.

This report of the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women, along with the recommendations it contains, is an invaluable contribution to the struggle to eliminate violence against women.

Yakin Ertürk
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences