One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from partner

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One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner, while 7% will be assaulted at some point in their lives by a non-partner, say the authors of a new series of papers in the Lancet. They conclude that too little is being done to counter violence against women, which is endemic around the globe.

Even though the issue is attracting more attention and there is greater knowledge about how to protect women, violence – including intimate-partner violence, rape, FGM, trafficking and forced marriages – remains unacceptably high. Between 100 million and 140 million girls and women have suffered FGM, with more than 3 million girls at risk every year in Africa alone. Some 70 million girls worldwide have been married before their 18th birthday, many against their will.

The papers call for governments to take action on the underlying causes. Blaming the perpetrators because of personality or mental health disorders, or their own history of sexual or alcohol abuse, is inadequate, say the researchers. Economic, social and political factors also play a part and governments should address them.

“In many regions in the past 50 years, women’s status has improved markedly. In too many settings, however, women remain second-class citizens, are discriminated against, and made subservient to men. Even where women enjoy many freedoms, the fear and reality of male violence persists,” write Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno, of the World Health Organisation in Geneva, and colleagues.

“Violence against women and girls is a global phenomenon that historically has been hidden, ignored, and accepted. Child sexual abuse has remained a silent shame. Rape has often been a matter of stigma for the victim rather than the perpetrator. Violence in the home has been considered a private affair.

“Turning of the head and closing of the eyes have occurred despite global estimates that one in every three women will experience physical violence, sexual violence, or both, from an intimate partner, or sexual violence from someone other than a partner in her lifetime. The full extent of abuse is even greater, with multiple different forms of violence around the world often remaining uncounted and under-researched.”

It is possible to make a real difference through moves towards gender equality, said series co-lead Professor Charlotte Watts, founding director of the Gender Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“No magic wand will eliminate violence against women and girls. But evidence tells us that changes in attitudes and behaviours are possible, and can be achieved within less than a generation.”

Governments must allocate funds to tackling violence against women, recognising it as a barrier to health and development, researchers say. They must change any discriminatory laws and promote equality and non-violent behaviours.

Violence against women and girls is not just another women’s issue, say the authors, but is a public health and development problem of concern to all. “Its elimination should be part of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), just as the elimination of apartheid was an important goal of the 1970s and 1980s for the worldwide community.”

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