Indicates Gender-Related Violence Is Global
By Jordan Lite - WEnews correspondent (WOMENSENEWS)
Up to 70 percent of female murder victims worldwide are killed by their
male companions and as many as one-third of girls are forced into their
first sexual experience, according to a World Health Organization report
released Thursday. The report urged countries to no longer treat violence
solely as a "law and order issue."
Violence must instead be addressed by preventive public health measures,
the agency says. Violent acts are most often committed behind closed doors
and go unreported, according to the document, making violence "one of
the leading public health issues of our time."
While most of the data in the "World Report on Violence and Health" is
not new, the report is significant because it is the first time a United
Nations agency has produced a major document that acknowledges the public
health implications of violence beyond those of injury and death--particularly
domestic and sexual violence that occurs in private, said Etienne Krug,
director of the department of injuries and violence prevention at the
World Health Organization.
"Violence is often only addressed in the context of war or the context
of crime," said Krug, who edited the report. "By doing so we miss some
of the violence that is not necessarily crime: violence in the home, bullying,
The United Nations first declared violence a worldwide public health problem
at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in 1996. Now, armed with data on
the extent of the problem and nine recommendations to address it, the
World Health Organization will conduct an 18-month violence-prevention
campaign. Fifteen countries have already invited agency officials to present
their findings and review how effectively those countries are implementing
preventive measures, Krug said.
Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the International Center for Research on
Women, commended the agency for issuing the report, adding that attention
to the problem of violence against women "is long overdue by a U.N. agency."
"I hope that this is a sign that WHO and other U.N. agencies will push
national governments and the global community to think seriously about
how violence against women can be prevented and the significant costs
to women's rights and the economic costs to national economies," Gupta
Violence Accounts for 7 Percent of Deaths among Women and Girls
The report tallies the ripple effects of physical, sexual and psychological
violence around the world, from the immediate deaths and injuries to long-lasting
problems including permanent physical disabilities and a range of mental,
behavioral and reproductive health troubles.
More than 1.6 million people each year die from violence, which is among
the leading causes of death for those ages 15 to 44. In that age group,
violence accounts for 7 percent of deaths among women and girls and 14
percent among men and boys. But while males are more often both the victims
and perpetrators of violence overall, the "overwhelming burden" of sexual
violence and violence at the hand of an intimate partner is borne by women,
the report says.
The patterns of abuse women experience are strikingly universal, Krug
notes. Most victims of physical aggression experience multiple assaults
over time and more than one type of abuse. The report states that in 48
surveys from around the world, between 10 percent and 69 percent of women
report that they have been physically assaulted by a male partner; with
22 percent of U.S. women reporting they were assaulted by male partners.
Nearly 25 percent of women may experience sexual violence by an intimate
partner during their lives, according to the report.
And these women continue to feel the after-effects of violence long after
it's over. Victims of sexual violence can experience unwanted pregnancy,
sexually transmitted diseases and other gynecological problems, as well
as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts and
behavior. Domestic violence victims experience some of these same effects,
as well as gastrointestinal problems and chronic pain.
"These statistics are shocking and disturbing," Krug said.
The report also notes the growing recognition of elder abuse, which includes
neglect, physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Between 4 percent and
6 percent of all elderly people are abused in the home, and violence that
occurs in care facilities may be even more widespread, the report says.
Elderly women are at increased risk of abuse in cultures where women have
inferior social status, and the type of violence they experience is particular
to their gender. In Tanzania, for example, 500 elderly women accused of
witchcraft are killed annually, the report says. Older women also may
be abandoned and have their property taken when a husband dies.
Women Will Benefit from View of Violence as Health, Not Rights Issue
But "violence is not an intractable social problem or an inevitable part
of the human condition," the report says. It advocates that countries
establish national violence-prevention plans that involve government as
well as health, education and labor organizations. It also recommends
steps including the promotion of primary prevention services, such as
parenting training and improving firearm safety; strengthening responses
to violence, such as improved emergency-response systems and integrating
violence prevention into policies to promote gender and social equality.
Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor of nursing at Johns Hopkins University
who has been studying domestic violence since 1980, said that women would
benefit from the report, which treats domestic violence as a mainstream
health issue for the medical profession, rather than a politically marginalized
human rights issue.
"I think it will be an eye-opener for people," Campbell said. "When they
see the extent of injury and mortality, policymakers are much more likely
to address the issue legislatively and through health care. In emergency
room departments, providers will perhaps start asking routinely about
"What we've found in the past is that if you address this as a women's
health issue, that gets them convinced that it's an important issue--sometimes
more so than if you talk about it only as a human rights issue," she added.
"Sometimes talking about it as a human rights or women's rights issue,
that's where you get a backlash."
But Krug said that the report could strengthen the use of international
human rights conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women, known as CEDAW, which has been
ratified by 170 countries. "We see the collaboration of human rights and
public health as a very important one," he said. "I think the report can
contribute to the efforts around CEDAW."
Jordan Lite is the assistant managing editor of Women's Enews.
For more information:
World Health Organization - Violence and Injuries Prevention: - http://www5.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/main.cfm?s=0009
United Nations Division for the Advancement - of
Women State Parties to CEDAW: - http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/states.htm
International Center for Research on Women: - http://www.icrw.org/
about 85 percent of
cases, sexual assaults
occur between people
who know each other."
Source: Diana Russell,
The Prevalence and Incidence of
Forcible Rape and Attempted Rape of Females, Victimology: An International
Journal 7, 1-4 (1983).