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Violence Against Women Is A “Global Health Epidemic,” Says WHO Report
June 20, 2013
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Protesters demonstrate against a violent assault on a woman in Bilbao, Spain, June 4, 2013 - the sign in front reads "Stop violence against women in general" (Photo: Reuters)

Here's a painful statistic from a new World Health Organization (WHO) report: more than a third of all women worldwide are victims of physical or sexual violence.

The report calls the phenomenon of violence against women a "global health epidemic."

As for who's responsible for these physical and sexual attacks, the report finds that the vast majority of women are assaulted by their husbands or boyfriends.

Injuries from those assaults can include broken bones, bruises, pregnancy complications, depression and other mental illnesses, according to the report.

"This is an everyday reality for many, many women," Charlotte Watts, a health policy expert with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and co-author of the study, told Reuters.

Activists hang pictures of well-known women who have been victims of abuse in front of the Congress National Building in Buenos Aires on International Women's Day 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The 'WHO Multi-Country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence Against Women' is based on interviews with 24,000 women in 10 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Peru, Namibia, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand and the United Republic of Tanzania.

But the study's findings are not limited to those countries, said another of its authors.

"The main message is that this problem affects women everywhere," Karen Devries, an epidemiologist with LSHTM, told NPR. And because of the stigma associated with rape and abuse, "some of our findings may underestimate the prevalence."

According to the report's introduction, it focuses on "the forms and patterns of this violence across different countries and cultures" as well as "the consequences of violence for women's health."

The goal is to "help national authorities design policies and programmes that begin to deal with the problem."

Claudia Garcia-Moreno, who also co-authored the report, talked to Reuters about recent high-profile rape cases in South Africa and India, and how they have put a spotlight on the treatment of women.

"These kinds of cases raise awareness, which is important, and at the same time we must remember there are hundreds of women every day who are being raped on the streets and in their homes, but that doesn't make the headlines," she cautioned.

who-violence-logo.jpgThere are many health effects associated with abuse, the WHO finds: women who suffer violence are 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV, syphilis, Chlamydia or gonorrhea, and physical and sexual abuse can also be the root cause of health problems like depression and stress- and alcohol-related disorders.

And the impacts can even spill over into the next generation: a woman who experiences violence has a greater chance of giving birth to a low-birth-weight baby.

Asked what can be done to stop violence against women, Garcia-Moreno says education and giving women a chance economically are essential parts of the solution.

Two years ago, NPR reports, researchers in South Africa gave women small loans to start businesses like vegetable stands, tailoring services and other retail businesses, and educated them about gender equality and domestic violence.

Since then, abuse among the women in the study has decreased by more than half.

But the WHO also believes that health professionals must play a role.

"The world's health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence," Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said in a statement.

Via Think Progress


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