The key to fighting violence against women and girls is education

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Violence against women and girls continues to be the most fundamental and globally widespread violation of women’s human rights worldwide. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

“Domestic violence is a global public health concern with one in three women throughout the world experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non partner”. Professor Sir Michael, Director of University College London Institute of Health Equity, was speaking at a luncheon seminar during the 67th World Health Assembly, organized by the World Medical Association and the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations.

WMA and IFMSA represent millions of doctors and young people worldwide. Deploring the costs of violence, its devastating health consequences to the women, their children and to the society as a whole, health professionals consider that they have a key role to play in combating one of the most severe human rights violations.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot (top photo) outlined the extent of domestic violence around the world, explaining how in many countries married women believe a husband is justified in beating a wife if she refuses to have sex. Education, however, is key. The more educated women are, the less likely they are to think that violence is justified. Both physicians and health professionals should play a bigger role in the prevention as well as the detection of violence against women and girls. Staff training in equality and diversity issues should be improved so that physicians and others could detect cases of abuse among their patients and would ask the relevant questions.

‘For instance, much domestic abuse starts during a woman’s pregnancy and physicians should be aware that daring to ask the right questions during this time is particularly effective. Previously silent women may come forward because of fear of harm to their baby’. In addition, women and girls should be empowered through education and social support.

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Dr Margaret Mungherera, WMA President addressed how Gender Based Violence (GBV) is only one of the many forms of violence that women experience worldwide. In conflict situations, sexual violence is common and is often associated with physical violence and abductions. Unwanted pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, mental disorders and traumatic fistula are common complications. GBV should be included in the pre-service training and continuing education curricula of physicians and other health workers. GBV services should be integrated into mental health and primary care services and these should be made available universally.

The need for including prevention and recognition of violence against women in the medical curriculum was echoed by Waruguru Wanjau (below photo), IFMSA Liaison Officer to World Health Organization, as well as the need for different fields in health to come together to solve the problem through a holistic approach. ‘There is a need for all of us, medical students and physicians, to be advocates against violence against women and girls’.

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On May 24th, the 67th World Health Assembly adopted the historic resolution “Strengthening the role of the health system in addressing violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children. The resolution notes interpersonal violence to be a major challenge in public health, and raises concerns related to the consequences, including death, disability and physical injuries, mental health impacts and sexual and reproductive health and social consequences. The resolution affirms the health system’s role in the prevention, response and advocacy for interventions to combat social acceptability and tolerance of interpersonal violence, and calls WHO to develop a global plan of action as well as scientific evidence collection of the magnitude, trends, consequences and risk factors for violence.

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In the conclusion of the luncheon, education was pointed out to be key in fighting violence against women and girls. Education of women and girls is key to understand that violence should not be tolerated. Education of boys can neither be forgotten. And finally, the solution starts close to home: Education of medical students and health professionals is key for them to dare to address this topic, to recognize the consequences of violence and to ask the right questions.

Our great thanks go out to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Taiwan for their support in hosting this WMA-IFMSA Luncheon “Doctors Fighting Violence against Women and Girls”.


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