The study finds one woman in three in the world will experience physical or sexual violence sometime during her lifetime by someone she knows - a husband, a boyfriend, a family member or friend.
The report says women of all ages, young and old alike, are subject to violence. The World Health Organization calls violence against women widespread and pervasive. It says it is a global health problem of epidemic proportions.
In an analysis of international homicide statistics, the study finds that a husband or a close partner is responsible for 38 percent of the murders of women worldwide.
Claudia Garcia-Moreno, lead specialist of Gender, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Health and Adolescence at WHO and one of the authors of the report, says physical and sexual violence against women takes a tremendous toll on the health of women. She says 42 percent of women beaten up by their partners suffer injuries.
“Women who have experienced physical or sexual violence were two times more likely to be depressed or to have problems with alcohol use compared to women who have never experienced this violence. They were twice as likely to have had an abortion. They were one and one half times more likely to have had a sexually-transmitted infection and in some regions to be affected by HIV. And, they are also more likely to have low-birth-weight babies,” said Garcia-Moreno.
This is the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women by both intimate partners and non-partners. The World Health Organization, in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, has collected data from 81 countries in 2010.
The study finds the worst affected regions are Southeast Asia, the eastern Mediterranean region and Africa, where rates of violence against women from an intimate partner hover around 37 percent. For combined intimate partner and non-partner sexual violence, the data show Africa, with 45.6 percent, has the worst record, followed by Southeast Asia, with 40.2 percent.
But the report dispels the notion that violence is a problem only in the developing countries. It shows 32.7 percent of physical and sexual violence against women occurs in high-income countries.
In addition to responding to women who are affected, Garcia-Moreno says measures are needed to stop the problem from happening in the first place. She highlights three areas of intervention.
“One is the prevention of child abuse and maltreatment. We know that children who are abused or who are exposed to their parents abusing each other are more likely to end up in an abusive relationship either as perpetrator or as victim…The second area is empowerment of women. Access to secondary education we know is protective, access to jobs, employment, other economical opportunities…The third area of intervention in terms of prevention is the issue of social norms. There are many countries in which this form of violence is seen as acceptable,” said Garcia-Moreno.
The World Health Organization notes talking about violence against women is taboo in many countries, and so the abuse continues. It says awareness and open discussion of the problem is key to prevention.
New WHO guidelines stress the importance of training all levels of health workers to recognize when women may be at risk of partner violence and to know how to deal with the problem. It says the enactment and implementation of more and better laws are necessary to curb violence against women.