WHO calls domestic abuse a global problem | Globalization | DW | 24.06.2013
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WHO calls domestic abuse a global problem

Many women are victims of violence in the home, committed by their partners, and it is more widespread than previously thought. The WHO has published new figures on domestic abuse - and the results are alarming.

They are beaten, insulted and raped. Violence against women is a global problem and more widespread than many observers had previously thought. A new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows how serious the problem is: one out of three women has been abused by her partner.

The United Nations organization said violence against women had reached "epidemic proportions." Such abuse occurs around the world with few differences from one region to another, WHO expert Claudia Garcia-Moreno told DW.

In parts of the world with higher average incomes, including North America, Europe, Australia and Japan, about 25 percent of women were physically or sexually abused by their partners. In Southeast Asia and Africa that number jumped to more than a third of women, according to the WHO study. The actual number of victims is difficult to calculate as women often do not talk about how they sustained their injuries.

"The health care system has to take the problem of violence against women much more seriously than it has so far," Garcia-Moreno said.

Abusers among us

While a higher income reduces cases of abuse, it's one of many factors that contributes to improving women's lives, Garcia-Moreno said.

A male actor's fist in the foreground with a female actor cowering in the background Photo: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Many men have an outdated view of gender equality

"Women who have a secondary education or higher are less likely to experience violence," she said. "It may have to do with self-confidence it may also have to do with the ability to leave an abusive relationship."

Abuse of women in Germany can be found across all social strata, according to Karin Nordmeyer, head of UN Women's branch in Germany. "It's not just in the alleys where the less well-off live," she told DW.

Many men, she said, still believe they set the rules for the people living under their roof. "They often lock up or do not give them money, or just a tiny allowance, and then take it away if women don't do what they want in bed."

Physical and psychological effects

Being a victim of domestic violence often has far-reaching effects, including depression and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, or even death.

"Abuse has an effect on the entire family," Garcia-Moreno said, adding that children who see their mother being abused have a higher chance of being abused themselves and also abusing others when they are adults.

A male actor's hand raised to a girl

Children who witness abuse are more likely to be abused themselves

Nordmeyer said different risk factors need to be addressed in different ways. Support for overwhelmed parents could help keep children from being confronted with violence at an early age. Other programs need to be developed for men - and ideally boys - to teach them about gender equality.

"We have to show that in our society it is not about who is fastest, biggest, loudest and strongest," Nordmeyer said. "We have to show that men and women really are equal."

A worldwide campaign called "Say no - Unite to end violence against women" and a program "Commit against violence" sponsored by the United Nations, aim to protect women from domestic abuse. The focus is to get people and governments involved in ending abuse. "So far, 58 countries have shown an interest in the initiative and signed on," Nordmeyer said.

A new Council of Europe convention against domestic violence puts forth a draft law spelling out what domestic violence is and what countries should do about it. The text is currently in the national ratification process.

Garcia-Moreno and Nordmeyer said they hope coming years will bring an improvement in terms of violence against women.

"Younger generations are not as rooted in the view that men have to have more power than women," Nordmeyer said.

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