No excuse for domestic violence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 4:18am

The World Health Organisation has a clinical interest in the issue of violence against women. That's because the matter is linked to a higher-than-average incidence of a range of acute and chronic problems, such as depression and other mental illness, stress- and alcohol-related disorders, pregnancy complications and sexually transmitted disease. But it is not a simple matter to raise the profile of violence as a global women's health issue. Much of the violence is inflicted by partners, and cultural resistance to intervention in domestic affairs continues to be an obstacle. Hong Kong is no exception.

This is not the kind of issue you would expect a celebrity to be associated with unless he or she had no choice. This is what happened with the worldwide publication of a British tabloid's pictures showing celebrity chef Nigella Lawson being grabbed by the throat and having her nose pinched by her art collector husband, Charles Saatchi, during a domestic row in a London restaurant. Police have since cautioned Saatchi for assault.

The World Health Organisation seized the moment to issue a report on violence against women, with director general Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, former Hong Kong health chief, saying it is a global health problem of epidemic proportions. One of the report's authors said the Lawson pictures showed violence happened to all women, not just poor women or those in certain countries or societies.

The report found the highest rate of domestic physical or sexual violence in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where 37 per cent of women experienced it from their partner at some time. The rate fell to 30 per cent in Latin and South America, 25 per cent in Europe and Asia, and 23 per cent in North America - all equally unacceptable. Chan said, rightly, that the world's health systems must do more for women who experienced violence. But, as Hong Kong authorities have found in dealing with domestic violence, there is also a need to promote understanding that it is a crime that can never be mitigated, let alone sanctioned, by culture or custom.