Urgent action is needed to check violence against women which is common and widespread throughout the developing and developed world with the fairer sex more at risk from their partners than other people, a new UN report says.
Over 24,000 women from 15 sites in 10 countries were interviewed for the World Health Organisation's study which showed that over 75 per cent of them were physically or sexually abused since the age of 15 and reported a partner as the culprit.
"Violence against women by an intimate partner is a major contributor to the ill-health of women. This study analyses data from 10 countries and sheds new light on the prevalence of violence against women in countries where few data were previously available," writes WHO Director-General Lee Jong-Wook in the Forward to the report 'Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women.'
The study, WHO says, will help local authorities design policies and programmes to deal with the problem.
Much greater investment is urgently needed in programmes to reduce violence against women and to support action on the study's findings and recommendations.
The main focus of the study was violence against women by male intimate partners, including physical, sexual violence and emotional abuse and controlling behaviour.
The proportion of women who had experienced physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner, ranged from 15 per cent to 71 per cent, with most sites falling between 29 per cent and 62 per cent. Women in Japan were the least likely to have experienced such violence, while the greatest incidence was reported in provincial (mostly rural) areas of Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Tanzania.
The study also examined physical and sexual abuse by men and women other than a current or former partner and its findings contradict the common perception that most violence is perpetrated by strangers.
"In the majority of settings, over 75 per cent of women physically or sexually abused since the age of 15 years reported abuse by a partner. In only two settings, urban Brazil and Samoa, were at least 40 per cent of women abused only by someone other than a partner," it found.
Presenting seven categories of recommendations, ranging from promoting gender equality to encouraging abused women to seek help, the report concludes that the cost of violence against women to individuals, to health systems, and to society in general is enormous.
The recommendations include strengthening national commitment and action. In particular, the study notes that improving women's legal and socio-economic status is likely in the long term, to be a "key intervention in reducing women's vulnerability to violence."
The study also calls for promoting measures such as media campaigns that encourage women to talk about the problem, plus prioritizing the prevention of child abuse.