Violence against women and its consequences to physical, mental and reproductive health is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the growing recognition that acts of violence against women are not isolated events but rather form a pattern of behaviour that violates the rights of women and girls, limits their participation in society, and damages their health and well-being.
According to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, physical or sexual violence is a public health problem of epidemic proportions that affects more than one third of all women globally.
Some 35% of all women will experience violence either intimate partner or non-partner. The study finds that intimate partner violence is the most common type of violence against women, affecting 30% of women worldwide.
The study highlights the need for all sectors to engage in eliminating tolerance for violence against women and better support for women who experience it. It emphasises the urgent need for better care for women who have experienced violence. These women often seek health-care, without necessarily disclosing the cause of their injuries or ill-health.
New WHO clinical and policy guidelines has been released with the aim to address this lack of knowledge. Experts stress the importance of training all levels of health workers to recognise when women may be at risk of partner violence and to know how to provide an appropriate response.
They also point out that some health-care settings, such as antenatal services and HIV testing, may provide opportunities to support survivors of violence, provided certain minimum requirements are met.
• Health providers have been trained how to ask about violence.
• Standard operating procedures are in place.
• Consultation takes place in a private setting.
• Confidentiality is guaranteed.
• A referral system is in place to ensure that women can access related services.
• In the case of sexual assault, health care settings must be equipped to provide the comprehensive response women need — to address both physical and mental health consequences.
Violence against women is pervasive globally and it is a major contributing factor to women’s ill health. It is not a small problem that only occurs in some pockets of society, but rather is a global public health problem of epidemic proportions, requiring urgent action. It is the high time for the world to take action: a life free of violence is a basic human right, one that every woman, man and child deserves.