Strengthening national commitment and action
Promote gender equality and women’s human rights.
Violence against women is an extreme manifestation of gender inequality that needs to be addressed urgently, as such violence in turn perpetuates this inequality. The unequal status of women is also associated in a variety of ways with domestic violence and with women’s responses to that violence. Improving women’s legal and socioeconomic status is likely to be, in the long term, a key intervention in reducing women’s vulnerability to violence. This includes: awareness of their rights, and measures to ensure women’s rights related to owning and disposing of property and assets, access to divorce and child custody following separation. Women’s access to education – in particular keeping girls enrolled through secondary education – and to safe and gainful employment should also be strongly supported as part of overall anti-violence efforts. National efforts to challenge the widespread tolerance and acceptance of violence against women are also important.
Considerable progress would be realized if governments complied with human rights treaties and international agreements that they have already ratified, such the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993), the 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (24), the 1995 Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (the “Beijing Declaration”) (7), and the 2000 Millennium Declaration and Development Goals (25).
Governments should strive to harmonize their legislation with these commitments and bring about the necessary changes in national laws, policies and programming. Advocacy for gender equality and human rights, and monitoring of national progress towards international commitments, need to be strengthened.
Establish, implement and monitor multisectoral action plans to address violence against women.
Governments must commit themselves to reducing violence against women, which is a major and preventable public health problem. The prevention of violence against women should rank high on national public health, social, and legal agendas.
Governments should publicly acknowledge that the problem exists, make a commitment to act, plan and implement national programmes both to avert future violence and to respond to it when it occurs, and invest significant resources in programmes to address violence against women, particularly partner violence and sexual abuse of girls.
Countries that are devising national action plans for violence prevention – a key recommendation in the World report on violence and health (1) – should give high priority within them to preventing violence against women and particularly intimate-partner violence.
Reducing violence against women will take concerted and coordinated action by a range of different sectors (e.g. health and social services, religious organizations, the judiciary and police, trade unions and businesses, and the media). It is important that a formal mechanism is created and provided with sufficient resources to coordinate multisectoral efforts, and should ideally be identified with the highest level of political office.
Enlist social, political, religious, and other leaders in speaking out against violence against women.
People – particularly men – in positions of authority and influence (e.g. political, religious, and traditional leaders) can play an important role in raising awareness about the problem of violence against women, challenging commonly held misconceptions and norms, and shaping the discussion in ways that promote positive change. Coordinated action by coalitions or alliances of figures from different sectors may be a more effective approach than identifying the issue with a single figure or sector.
Enhance capacity and establish systems for data collection to monitor violence against women, and the attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate it.
Surveillance is a critical element of a public health approach as it allows trends to be monitored and the impact of interventions to be assessed. Responsibility for such surveillance should be explicitly given to an institution, agency or government unit, in order to ensure the use of a standardized methodology and the establishment of mechanisms to guarantee that data will be disseminated and used properly. Building capacity in surveillance, including the use of surveys is an important element in this.
Discussions are being held internationally about how best to monitor violence against women, using both regular surveys and routine data collection in different service points. In this regard, the WHO questionnaire, the ethical and safety guidelines developed for the Study (10), and the forthcoming PATH/WHO Manual on research methodologies for studying violence against women (26) provide useful tools. The Injury surveillance guidelines developed by WHO and CDC, also provide practical advice on collecting systematic data on injuries, according to international standards (27).1 National statistics offices and relevant ministries, particularly health and justice, as well as organizations providing services for women, should ensure that data are collected in a way that respects confidentiality and does not jeopardize women’s safety (28).
1The injury surveillance guidelines are available online at www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/surveillance/surveillance_guidelines/en/ or through WHO.