WHO Calls Violence Against Women a “Public Health Problem of Epidemic Proportions”

By: Gary Slutkin, M.D.

On June 20, the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the world’s leading public health agencies, released a new report examining the health effects of violence against women across the globe. Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO, called violence against women “a global health problem of epidemic proportions.”

Creative Commons Photo Credit: UK Department of International Development

Creative Commons Photo Credit: UK Department of International Development

The report says that one in three women worldwide will suffer some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime and that violence against women, often called intimate partner violence (IPV), affects 30 percent of women globally. Further, women who experience violence are twice as likely to be depressed or have problems with alcohol. Other serious health consequences include unintended pregnancies, the harmful use of drugs, physical injuries and death. Further, children exposed to IPV in the home are more likely to grow up to be abused themselves, smoke and have unsafe sex.

Notably, the WHO is calling on the public health community to play a key role in preventing and responding to violence against women. With the report, the organization issued guidelines and policy recommendations on how health systems can provide services to treat the physical and mental health consequences of violence.

The health consequences of violence are real and they have the potential to be life altering if not outright devastating to individuals, families and communities. But like we’ve eradicated diseases of the past using medical interventions, we can work to eradicate the epidemic of violence using scientific interventions. Reducing violence cannot be done in a silo, of course, but it can be done—and our community, the public health community, has a real role to play in making this happen.