PHYSICAL or sexual violence affects more than one in three women worldwide, according to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and partnering health authorities. The report represents the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women.
"Some 35 per cent of all women will experience either intimate partner or non-partner violence," says the report. Additionally, 38 per cent of all women murdered were reportedly killed by their partners, and such violence is a major contributor to depression, alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and abortions.
"These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions," said 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."
Health impacts of violence
Violence in the home is a major contributor to women's mental health. The report found women who experienced partner violence to be nearly twice as likely to experience depression. Further, mental health disorders are skyrocketing as children view the abuse and it becomes a generational acceptance.
About half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14. Around 20 per cent of the world's children and adolescents are estimated to have mental disorders or problems. Stigma about mental disorders and discrimination often prevents people from seeking mental health care.
"Women experiencing intimate partner violence are almost twice as likely as other women to have alcohol-use problems," according to the WHO.
Alcohol use has short and long-term health consequences. It's a leading cause of depression and other mental health conditions as well as sexually transmitted infections. Women who experience physical and/or sexual partner violence are 1.5 times more likely to acquire syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhoea or HIV.
Additionally, violence is a leading cause of unwanted pregnancy and abortion. The report found that women experiencing physical and/or sexual partner violence are twice as likely to have an abortion. If the female carries to term, they have a 16 per cent greater chance of having a low birth-weight baby -- a leading cause of infant mortality and complications.
"This new data shows that violence against women is extremely common. We urgently need to invest in prevention to address the underlying causes of this global women's health problem," said Professor Charlotte Watts, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
"Gender-based violence is responsible for the psychological distress, which results in acceptance, which results in more violence, and consequently, more psychological distress: a cycle of risk and consequence," said Rachel Jewkes from the South African Medical Research Council.
Psychological distress and alcohol use also makes it much harder for women to protect themselves. It makes them more likely to accept the man's dominance in the relationship and she is more likely to have frequent sex without a condom, explains Jewkes.
Women often suffer isolation, inability to work, loss of wages and lack participation in activities. These common outcomes will prevent and limit a woman's ability to care for herself and her family.
Sadly, a common side effect of abuse is more abuse - It's a downward spiral.
Dr Cory Couillard is an international health care speaker and columnist for numerous publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organisation's goals of disease prevention and global health-care education. firstname.lastname@example.org. twitter: DrCoryCouillard
June 26, 2013