Violence against women makes a victim of all in society
Shin Young-soo says everyone suffers when women and girls are harmed by violence, and we need to tackle the gender inequality that feeds it
Violence against women and girls is a major challenge in the Western Pacific. They run the greatest risk of violence in their homes, at the hands of someone they know.
Such violence is rooted in gender inequality. Unequal gender norms and attitudes held by both women and men make violence more acceptable. They exist in every society.
The ongoing campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, provides an opportunity to bring the global community together to strengthen awareness about the issue. To raise awareness, we have launched a campaign called “Human Together”. It recognises that gender-based violence is not just an issue for survivors, but for all of us as human beings. It highlights how men, women, girls and boys together can play a role in eliminating this violence.
Together, communities can change harmful gender norms and attitudes that say violence is acceptable. Together, health workers can work with survivors to ask the right questions, listen and reassure them that violence is not their fault. Together, policymakers can pass laws and policies to increase gender equality.
Responding to gender-based violence is complex. But it is critical in the context of sustainable development and universal health coverage. The health, economic and social costs of gender-based violence are staggering – from lost productivity to social instability. For example, in Vietnam, the total productivity losses and potential opportunity costs of intimate partner violence against women were estimated at 3 per cent of gross domestic product. In Australia, the cost of violence against women and their children was estimated at A$22 billion (HK$127 billion) in 2015-16.
Countries in the Western Pacific region are taking impressive steps to promote gender equality and respond to gender-based violence in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and partners. It is important that we recognise, celebrate and share these achievements.
For example, in the past 12 years, surveys based on the WHO methodology for the measurement of violence against women have been implemented in 18 countries and settings in the region. These studies are a strong sign of political commitment by governments. They also provide valid data as the basis for sound policy and action.
Standing together against gender-based violence and ensuring women and girls have access to needed services is critical, not only for their healthy futures but also for the future of their families and communities. Healthy girls and women make healthy families, communities and nations.
Dr Shin Young-soo is WHO regional director for the Western Pacific region