Gender, women and health

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


Each culture has its sayings and songs about the importance of home, and the comfort and security to be found there. Yet for many women, home is a place of pain and humiliation.

As this report clearly shows, violence against women by their male partners is common, wide-spread and far-reaching in its impact. For too long hidden behind closed doors and avoided in public discourse, such violence can no longer be denied as part of everyday life for millions of women.

The research findings presented in this report reinforce the key messages of WHO’s World Report on Violence and Health in 2002, challenging notions that acts of violence are simply matters of family privacy, individual choice, or inevitable facts of life. The data collected by WHO and researchers in 10 countries confirm our understanding that violence against women is an important social problem. Violence against women is also an important risk factor for women’s ill-health, and should receive greater attention.

Experience, primarily in industrialized countries, has shown that public health approaches to violence can make a difference. The health sector has unique potential to deal with violence against women, particularly through reproductive health services, which most women will access at some point in their lives. The Study indicates, however, that this potential is far from being realized. This is partly because stigma and fear make many women reluctant to disclose their suffering. But it is also because few doctors, nurses or other health personnel have the awareness and the training to identify violence as the underlying cause of women’s health problems, or can provide help, particularly in settings where other services for follow-up care or protection are not available. The health sector can certainly not do this alone, but it should increasingly fulfil its potential to take a proactive role in violence prevention.

Violence against women is both a consequence and a cause of gender inequality. Primary prevention programmes that address gender inequality and tackle the many root causes of violence, changes in legislation, and the provision of services for women living with violence are all essential. The Millennium Development Goal regarding girls’ education, gender equality and the empowerment of women reflects the international community’s recognition that health, development, and gender equality issues are closely interconnected.

WHO regards the prevention of violence in general – and violence against women in particular – a high priority. It offers technical expertise to countries wishing to work against violence, and urges international donors to support such work. It continues to emphasize the importance of action-oriented, ethically based research, such as this Study, to increase our understanding of the problem and what to do about it. It also strongly urges the health sector to take a more proactive role in responding to the needs of the many women living in violent relationships.

Joy Phumaphi
Assistant Director-General, Family and Community Health, WHO