Some 35 percent of all women globally will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to a report released by the World Health Organization on Thursday.
WHO reported one in three women will experience violence from a sexual partner or non-partner. The data shows 38 percent of all women murdered globally were killed by intimate partners. The study found intimate partner violence to be the most common violence against females, affecting 30 percent of women worldwide.
“These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”
Partner violence results in a woman being twice as likely to experience depression, twice as likely to have alcohol-use problems, 1.5 times more likely to acquire sexually transmitted diseases, twice as likely to have an abortion, and have a 16 percent greater chance of having a baby with low-birth weight.
A woman physically or sexually abused by a sexual partner is 1.5 times more likely to contract syphilis, Chlamydia, or gonorrhea. In Sub-Saharan African, these women are even 1.5 times more like to contract HIV.
The report says stigma is a barrier in the collection of violence against women data, which means the numbers could very well be higher than their estimates.
“This new data shows that violence against women is extremely common," said Professor Charlotte Watts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. "We urgently need to invest in prevention to address the underlying causes of this global women’s health problem.”
WHO is calling for new clinical and policy guidelines to crack down on rape culture that creates tolerance for violence against women and girls. There hope is that guidelines will help health sectors respond. They recommend that the health sector not require woman to disclose the cause of their injuries or illness when they seek medical treatment.
“The report findings show that violence greatly increases women’s vulnerability to a range of short- and long-term health problems; it highlights the need for the health sector to take violence against women more seriously,” said Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno of WHO. “In many cases this is because health workers simply do not know how to respond.”
WHO recommends health providers be trained on how to approach violence, put standard operating procedures in place, ensure confidentiality and consult in private, give referrals to related services and be equipped to respond to mental and physical health consequences stemming from sexual assaults.