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About one in three women in the world experience some form of violence in their lifetime, but there is nothing natural or inevitable about it, according to a recent Policy Forum article in Science magazine. “Attitudes can and must change,” the article states.

The authors, including Ms. Lori Heise and Dr. Mary Ellsberg of PATH, write on behalf of the just-released WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women. The study, carried out with 24,000 women in 10 countries, confirms that women around the world are at significant risk of physical and sexual violence, that much of this violence is hidden, and that it causes serious—often long-term—health consequences.

The article also highlights substantial variation in violence prevalence both within and between countries. Urban Japan and Serbia and Montenegro had the lowest rates of abuse. Ethiopia Province and Peru Province had particularly high rates. Read more about the WHO study and its findings.

The authors speculate, based on the WHO data and other research, that women in industrialized nations may find it easier to leave abusive relationships. In some developed countries, the rates of women who have experienced violence are high, but rates of women currently experiencing violence are low.

The authors also believe that “traditional gender norms are a key factor in the prevalence of abuse and that transforming gender relations should be an important focus of prevention efforts.”

Other important ways to prevent abuse, according to the authors, include:

  • Engaging health, education, and justice sectors of states to challenge the social inequities that give rise to violence and to provide support for victims.
  • Intervening with children who witness violence.
  • Developing curricula that teach children and young people social skills and nonviolent methods of conflict resolution.
  • Training health providers to respond appropriately to women who disclose abuse.
  • Increasing support of local and national organizations that combat violence against women and promote gender equality.

The article appeared in the November 25, 2005, issue of Science (volume 310, page 1282) and was authored by Claudia Garcia-Moreno and Henrica A. F. M. Jansen of the World Health Organization, Lori Heise and Mary Ellsberg of PATH, and Charlotte Watts of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The web address for Science is www.sciencemag.org.