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International Women's Day 2013: Responding to epidemic of violence against women

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MANILA, 7 MARCH 2013 - In the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Region, one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other way by an intimate partner. This year, International Women’s Day (8 March) addresses violence against women as a public health threat.

"Violence against women is not inevitable," says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. "More can and must be done to mitigate the problem. International Women’s Day 2013 is a timely opportunity to highlight ongoing efforts to stop violence against women and call for greater action.”

Without a comprehensive response, the right of women and girls to the highest attainable standard of health will not be realized, Dr Shin adds.

Though incomplete, available information suggests that women and girls across the Region face pervasive physical and sexual violence.

Several countries in the Region have conducted national prevalence surveys using methodology developed by WHO. In Kiribati, 68% of women who have ever been in a relationship report physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. The corresponding rate in Samoa is 46%, and in Japan 15%. In Solomon Islands, nearly half the women report being raped by their partners. In Viet Nam, 32% of women aged 18 to 60 who have ever been married report physical violence by a partner, and 10% report sexual violence.

These surveys show that violence crosses socioeconomic, religious, racial and ethnic lines. Whether it manifests itself as rape or domestic abuse or as an assault during pregnancy, violence against women not only threatens women's health and well-being, but also thwarts efforts to reduce poverty and promote gender equality.

The health consequences are staggering. Acts of violence are associated with short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual, reproductive and other problems; fatal and non-fatal injuries; sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; emotional distress; substance abuse and suicide.

Still, few women report seeking help from health services, churches or police. In the words of one survivor from Malaita, Solomon Islands: "I haven’t told anybody about my problems, not even my parents… This is the first time that I have shared my problems with another. I don’t mind because it can help others to know that this is what can happen to young people who make the wrong choice." Another victim from Viet Nam reports, “Staying silent is dying.”

WHO has been actively promoting violence prevention as a public health issue for more than a decade, working from the perspective of prevention, response and measurement of the dimensions of the problem so that it can be better addressed. WHO has documented evidence and drafted recommendations on effective ways to prevent intimate partner and sexual violence against women. It is now developing clinical and policy guidelines on the health sector response to violence against women.

International Women's Day was first observed in 1975 to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women and to renew calls for gender equality and women's empowerment.

Each year, a theme is chosen by the United Nations to mark the day. The theme for 2013 is: "A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women".

Violence against women is a serious public health issue and a violation of human rights. The United Nations defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".

For more information, please contact:
Dr Howard Sobel
Regional Adviser, Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition

Mr Jonathon Passmore
Technical Officer, Violence and Injury Prevention

Ms Anjana Bhushan
Technical Officer, Health in Development