Gender, women and health



The results of the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women highlight the need for urgent action by a wide range of actors, from local health authorities and community leaders to national governments and international donors.

As the Study clearly demonstrates, violence against women is widespread and deeply ingrained, and has serious impacts on women’s health and well-being. Its continued existence is morally indefensible; its cost to individuals, to health systems, and to society in general is enormous. Yet no other major problem of public health has – until relatively recently – been so widely ignored and so little understood.

The wide variations in prevalence and patterns of violence from country to country, and, even more important, from setting to setting within countries, indicate that there is nothing “natural” or inevitable about it. Attitudes can and must change; the status of women can and must be improved; men and women can and must be convinced that partner violence is not an acceptable part of human relationships.

The following recommendations are drawn primarily from the findings of the Study, but are also informed by research and lessons learned from experience in many countries. In particular, they reinforce the findings and recommendations presented in WHO’s World report on violence and health (2), particularly the detailed recommendations in Chapter 4 on violence by intimate partners and Chapter 6 on sexual violence. They are grouped into the following categories:

  • Strengthening national commitment and action
  • Promoting primary prevention
  • Involving the education sector
  • Strengthening the health sector response
  • Supporting women living with violence
  • Sensitizing criminal justice systems
  • Supporting research and collaboration

Addressing and preventing violence against women requires action at many levels and by many actors and sectors. However, it is important that states take responsibility for the safety and well-being of their citizens. In this regard, governments, in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations, international organizations and donors, need to give priority to implementing the following recommendations.