Gender, women and health

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


The WHO Study was designed to address some of the major gaps in international research on violence against women. Specifically, the study aims were to:

  • estimate the prevalence of violence against women, with particular emphasis on physical, sexual and emotional violence by male intimate partners;
  • assess the extent to which intimate- partner violence is associated with a range of health outcomes;
  • identify factors that may either protect or put women at risk of partner violence;
  • document and compare the strategies and services that women use to deal with violence by an intimate partner.

This first report on the results of the WHO Study presents initial findings on objectives 1, 2 and 4: prevalence, health outcomes, and coping strategies. Analysis of risk and protective factors for violence will be addressed in a future report.

The WHO Study also aimed to develop new ways of measuring violence cross-culturally, and to increase national capacity and collaboration among researchers and women’s organizations working on violence. It also had an advocacy goal of increasing sensitivity to violence among researchers, policy-makers, and health care providers. The involvement of women’s health advocates in the research process, has been critical to ensuring that the Study’s safety standards were maintained, that respondents received follow up services if they needed them, and that the study findings are used for advocacy and policy change. In the participating countries the Study helped develop a network of people committed to working to address violence against women.

The original plan for the WHO Study included a survey of men. However, it was not possible to implement this(see Note 1.1).

Note 1.1 The WHO Study was originally planned to include interviews with men as well as women. This would have allowed comparison between men’s and women’s accounts of violence, and made it possible to investigate the extent to which men are physically or sexually abused by their partners. However, it was concluded that interviewing men and women in the same household might put the women at risk of future abuse. The alternative – doing the equivalent number of interviews in separate households with a separate team of male interviewers – was beyond the financial resources of the study. Men’s experience of partner violence is nevertheless an important issue that needs exploration in future research. It is equally important to understand the beliefs, attitudes, and characteristics of perpetrators of violence against women.