WHO report finds violence against women “a global health problem of epidemic proportions”

By HHR editorial assistant Krista Oehlke


Violence against women is a fundamental violation of human rights, and according to a recent WHO report, a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.” The landmark report, conducted in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, marks the first systematic study of global population data that differentiates between intimate partner and non-partner sexual violence, and distinguishes between global and regional estimates of both kinds of violence. The study found that 35 percent of women around the world experience sexual or physical violence.

The report describes these findings as “striking,” noting that they produce especially formidable implications for the public health field. While recent population-based studies have investigated the breadth and scale of violence against women, research that connects different forms of violence with health outcomes has been largely neglected. Overall, the findings show that exposure to violence is a critical contributor to “poor health for women.” Documented health outcomes tied to intimate partner and non-partner violence included mental health problems in addition to sexual and reproductive health problems. In response to the report, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, stated that “the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”

While the study notes that violence against women is not “a new phenomenon,” its findings support emergent research regarding violence against women as part of “a pattern of behavior that violates the rights of women and girls, limits their participation in society, and damages their health and well-being.” The findings illustrate that violent acts against women are not isolated events; they form part of a rampant global problem, thus belonging within the “realm of policymakers and health care providers.”

The report demands action from the public health field and outlines the importance of integrating response to violence into the health sector. Key recommendations include “strengthening health systems to support women through direct services and multisectoral responses” and “identifying key entry points, such as sexual and reproductive health services and mental health services.” Documented variation between regions also suggests the need to address economic and sociocultural contributors that condone violence against women.

The report follows the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held in March 2013, which called for increased implementation of legal and policy frameworks that ensure women’s and girls’ access to justice and the strengthening of “multisectoral services, programmes and responses to violence against women and girls.”

Read the full report here.

Read the Commission on the Status of Women here.

Related articles:

FCGH can support accountability for women’s right to health

Ending violence against women: A public health imperative

Approaches to the development of human rights indicators for women’s health

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