Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Violence against Women: An Important Global Health Priority

Sarah Simpson

Violence against women is a major health problem around the world and continues to be an important cause of morbidity and mortality among women.  Women suffer violent deaths either directly or indirectly, and this violence is also can important cause of morbidities such as mental, physical, sexual and reproductive health outcomes and is also linked to important risk factors for poor health, such as alcohol and drug use, smoking and unsafe sex.  The problem is so widespread that it has its own Millennium Development Goal 3 which seeks to “promote gender equality and empower women” along with Millennium Development Goal 5 which seeks to “improve maternal health”. However, in the light of several publicized acts of violence against women, this important issue is once again at the forefront of everyday discussion. Some key facts about violence against women from a United Nations factsheet:

·         A WHO multi-country study found that between 15–71% of women aged 15- 49 years reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
·         These forms of violence can result in physical, mental, sexual, reproductive health and other health problems, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.

·         Risk factors for being a perpetrator also include low education, past exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.

·         Risk factors for being a victim of intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, witnessing violence between parents, exposure to abuse during childhood and attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.

In the wake of the world-wide Valentine’s Day  One Billion Rising events calling people everywhere to unite and bring an end to violence against women, The Guardian’s “Global Development podcast” has recently released a podcast proceeding  the United Nations Fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

In this podcast, deputy editor of Guardian global development Liz Ford speaks with Irene Khan, head of the International Development Law Organization; Korto Williams, country director of ActionAid Liberia; Andrew Long from the U.K. Foreign Office's prevention of sexual violence in conflict initiative; and Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women, about current global efforts to stop violence against women. 

Against the backdrop of these movements to unite people world-wide, all eyes will be on policymakers at this upcoming session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women to produce and deliver results abroad and even in the United States.  Recently, two UN experts addressed the US State House of Representatives to approve the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which lapsed in 2011. Overall, the impact of violence against women needs to continue to be researched and explored from a public health perspective.

Sarah Simpson is an aspiring global health professional currently pursuing her Master of Public Health, Epidemiology degree at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

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