Domestic Violence Widespread, Harms Health of Millions of Women Worldwide

Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence experienced by women around the world; it is even more prevalent than rape or assault committed by strangers or acquaintances. Even though one in six women has been a victim of domestic violence, the problem remains largely hidden. Yet, physical and sexual violence take a terrible toll on women’s health and well-being.

Those are key findings from the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) first-ever Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women. Released on November 24, the study was conducted in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and PATH, a global health organization. Researchers interviewed 24,000 women in 15 sites in ten countries that were deemed a representative sample: Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, United Republic of Tanzania and Thailand.

They found that one quarter to one half of women who were physically assaulted by their partners suffered physical injuries as a result. Abused women were twice as likely as women who were not victims of violence to have poor health and physical and mental health problems, even if the violence occurred many years ago. One in eleven victims of abuse by their partners said they had attempted suicide.

In most countries studied, four to 12 percent of women who had been pregnant reported having been beaten during pregnancy. More than half of these women had been kicked or punched in the abdomen during pregnancy. Women who reported physical or sexual violence by a partner were also more likely to report having had at least one induced abortion or miscarriage than women who did not report abuse.

“This study shows that women are more at risk from violence at home than in the street,” said Dr. LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO. “[It] also shows how important it is to shine a spotlight on domestic violence globally and to treat it as a major public health issue. Challenging the social norms that condone and therefore perpetuate violence against women is a responsibility for us all.”

At least one in five women reporting physical abuse in the study had never before told anyone about it, with very few seeking help from health care providers, law enforcement or other authorities. Women were more likely to talk to family members or friends.

The report recommends a range of urgent actions to change attitudes and challenge the norms and inequities that perpetuate abuse. They include training health care providers to identify victims of violence and respond appropriately, raising awareness of the problem, prioritizing the prevention of child sexual abuse, making schools safe for girls, and integrating violence prevention into HIV/AIDS and reproductive health programs.

“This important study confirms much that we already know about the terrible scope of this problem and its consequences for women’s health,” said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. “We commend the World Health Organization for giving this issue the attention it deserves, and support the report’s call for more focus and funding for programs that address gender-based violence.”

The new report is available at www.who.int/en

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