THE BLOG

Violence Against Women: Time for Action

20/06/2013 18:04 BST | Updated 20/08/2013 10:12 BST

New global projections launched today on the prevalence of violence against women should serve as a wake up call to the international community as well as national governments. Our report on 'global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health consequences', and accompanying papers in Science and the Lancet, show that 35% of all women globally will experience intimate partner or non-partner violence. The most common form of violence is from women's partners, with 30% of women globally being physically or sexually assaulted. More than a third of homicides of women will be perpetrated by their partner, compared to 6% for men.

No countries are immune, and even in regions where the levels of violence are low - including the UK and USA - one in five women will be abused in their lifetime. Having worked on violence for more than fifteen years, I am well aware of the grim but hidden reality behind these stark figures. As a young researcher in Zimbabwe, I was often in tears at the end of a day, shocked by the stories that women would tell about the violence that they faced and feared in their daily lives.

Indeed, I soon learnt that although this issue was often ignored or trivialised by public officials, women would speak profoundly and at length about the ways in which violence undermined health and prevented them from being productive citizens and I was inspired by women's strength to endure and resist. Later, as a volunteer on a hotline in the UK, I heard many parallel stories, with women feeling stigmatised and shamed by the violence that they experience, but showing immense strength in seeking to find ways to end the violence in their lives and protect their children.

Fifteen years on, we finally have these global figures on violence. It's been a long haul. Working with the World Health Organization and the Medical Research Council in South Africa, our team at the Gender, Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have spent the past five years producing these results. To synthesise evidence on the links between violence exposure and poor health, we pored over thousands of research abstracts and sifted through hundreds of studies, extracting data from 81 countries. The figures show multiple impacts of violence, including being an important cause of depression, suicides and problematic alcohol use, and a risk factor for HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa.

A global figure of 35% is a sobering challenge and points to the urgent need for prevention. But the variations in violence levels around the world give glimmers of hope, suggesting that violence is not inevitable. Indeed, it seems that a combination of factors shape the levels of violence that occur in different settings - women's access to education and economic opportunities, for example, as well as social norms about whether some forms of violence against women are "acceptable". Alongside these contextual factors, we commonly see that children who witness violence in childhood are at increased risk of experiencing or perpetrating violence in later life. By sharpening our understanding of prevalence and causes, all these insights help us to target where and how to focus change efforts.

Intervention research is also starting to show that violence is preventable. A research study that we conducted in rural South Africa showed that empowering women socially and economically cut the levels of domestic violence in half. We are now doing research with inspiring grassroots programmes in Uganda, Tanzania and Cote D'Ivoire to learn more about what works. Finding solutions is not easy, as there are no quick-fix solutions. However, the issue of violence against women is emerging from the shadows - moving from being a private issue to a public concern. Effective partnerships, bringing together activists, policy makers, researchers and practitioners, are now needed to bring about change.