Over one third of women around the world will experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime, the majority of which is committed by their partners, according to a new study by the World Health Organisation.
The first all-encompassing study of its kind, WHO’s report reveals the startling incidence of attacks on women, predominantly by their male partners (30%). The majority of murders of women were also carried out by those closes to them (38%)
“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 the WHO. “We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”
Africa was accountable for the highest number of violence against women, with almost half of all women (45.5%) experiencing sexual of physical violence there during their lives. However, wealthier and more developed nations weren’t necessarily safer havens for women, with 32.7% of women in high-income countries such as the US or Australia still likely to experience violence in their lifetime.
While the incidence of sexual assaults committed by intimate partners was higher in developing or third world countries, there were more rapes and sexual assaults by strangers or acquaintances in high-income earning countries, while 23.2% of women in more affluent regions were still susceptible to physical and/or sexual violence from their partners.
The study’s authors claim that according to previous research, better-educated women are less likely to suffer violence, as well as those who have jobs, but that this was subject to their location.
The WHO report was two-fold; the first part was on the incidence rate of the violence, and the second offered new guidelines to healthcare staff for identifying and helping women.
The updated WHO clinical and policy guidelines advocate improved training for healthcare staff in identifying signs of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“But if you see a woman coming back several times with undisclosed injuries, you should be asking about domestic violence,” said study author Garcia-Moreno. “When I was training in medical school, it wasn’t something you learned or knew about. Years later, I was sometimes in a situation where I could tell there was something else going on in the woman I was interviewing, but didn’t have any sense that domestic violence was the issue. Now I think I would handle the interview very differently.”