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WHO urges Governments to take action to reduce violence against women

Nearly half the women who die due to homicide are killed by their current or former husband or boyfriend. In fact, violence accounts for approximately 7% of all deaths among women aged 15-44 worldwide.

This is one of the findings of WHO’s newly released World report on violence and health. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed, the report shows that violence against women has been linked to a number of immediate and long-term conditions, including physical injury, chronic pain syndromes, depression and suicidal behaviour. Partner violence can also affect a woman’s earning, job performance and her ability to keep a job.

The report also shows that, in some countries, up to 69% of women report having been physically assaulted and up to 47% of women report that their first sexual intercourse was forced.

“We need to voice the violence, to hear the stories of all those affected by violence. Spreading the word, breaking down the taboos and exposing the violence that takes place among us is the first step towards effective action to reduce violence in our own societies,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25th of November.

Massive differences in homicide rates among women show that there is nothing inevitable about violence. For example female homicide rates in a number of developing and transition countries exceed 6 per 100,000 population. This is 10 to 15 times higher than in countries with the lowest female homicide levels (Japan, United kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, Greece) where the rates are 0.4 to 0.5 per 100,000. By identifying and modifying the factors that drive these difference, female homicides can be prevented.

Young age, low income, low academic achievement and involvement in delinquent behaviour as an adolescent have been linked to a man’s risk of physically assaulting an intimate partner. Furthermore, a history of violence in the male partner’s family as well as excessive alcohol use are important factors.

Women are particularly vulnerable to abuse by their partners in societies where there are marked inequalities between men and women, rigid gender roles, cultural norms that support a man’s right to inflict violence, and weak sanctions against such behaviour.

The report highlights a number of promising prevention programmes, including social development programmes, reducing alcohol availability, reducing access to weapons such as firearms, reducing inequalities and strengthening police and judicial systems. Rather than simply accepting or reacting to violence, the field of public health must work together with the police, criminal justice systems, education, welfare, employment and other sectors, to prevent it.

“These findings challenge us," said Dr Brundtland. "Forty years of work to improve women's lives have given very uneven results. The majority of women in the world still suffer from poverty, discrimination and violence. Yet some countries have overcome this situation, and there is no reason why we can't replicate these successes.”

The release of the report initiated a Global Campaign for Violence Prevention with the objectives of raising awareness about violence as a major public health problem and the role that public health can play in the prevention of violence. Many countries including, Belgium, Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Mozambique and South Africa have committed to hosting events to discuss the impact of violence and to implement the recommendations of the report.

The report represents the first comprehensive, global review of current knowledge on violence. Its main message is that violence is preventable. Recommendations include the development of national and local plans of action, review and strengthening of the services being provided to victims of violence and greater investment in primary prevention.

WHO has already started to implement the recommendations of the Report through its Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence, which will be released on the 8th of March 2003, through the development of guidelines to strengthen services for victims of sexual violence and through the provision of technical support to several countries.

For more information on the report visit, http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/. To order a copy of the report, contact bookorders@who.int

Source: World report on violence and health, selected countries

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For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520
E-mail: sminkeyl@who.int