Violence against Women

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It is under-recognized and underreported, but it is one of the most significant epidemics in the world today: gender violence, manifested primarily as violence against women. Women of an social classes and religions are subject to gender violence; it is a cause of significant harm to their health and quality of life. This age-old epidemic has intensified in some present day settings and demands new, more effective policies to mitigate its destructive impact.

Domestic violence is perhaps the most common kind of gender violence around the world. And while women are not the only targets of domestic violence, they are the most frequent. Few precise figures exist, but the numbers can be shocking. According to some studies, approximately four million women are attacked by their husbands or partners each year in the United States. In Latin America and the Caribbean, numbers vary widely, but it is estimated that approximately 40 percent of women in the region have experienced domestic violence. The World Health Organization has published a report addressing the devastating effects of gender violence around the globe. According to this report, gender violence claims almost 1.6 million lives each year, about three percent of all deaths.

In the United States, violence against women is responsible for a large percentage of medical visits and for approximately one-third of all hospital emergency room visits. Domestic violence is the most frequent cause of injury among women treated in US emergency rooms, more common than motor vehicle accidents and robberies combined.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has developed a series of indicators to measure the incidence and trends of domestic violence. Women's groups and journalists in Latin America have gathered information that suggests that up to 80 percent of female murder victims are killed by their husbands or intimate partners. Domestic violence has ah impact not only on the women themselves but also on their families, particularly their children. More than 50 percent of children in foster care are there largely as a result of domestic violence in their homes. In some cases, they are also the direct targets of violence in the home.

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Clearly, governments need to do much more to stop gender-based violence against women. In 1994, the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the only international treaty addressing the prevention and punishment of violence against women: the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, also known as the Belem do Para Convention. Of the 34 member countries of the OAS, only the United States and Canada have not ratified the Convention.

All countries in the Americas--with the exception of the United States--have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), one of the most important instruments on women's rights. Several countries have also ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which enables women to file complaints individually with the United Nations when violations of their rights are not properly addressed in the court system of their home country. Today, almost 30 countries in the Americas have enacted laws against domestic violence or characterized this form of violence as a crime. Yet as UNIFEM has recognized, "while these countries have signed and ratified these instruments, the challenge is to get their precepts actually implemented."

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In 1993, the Pan American Health Organization (PALIO) declared domestic violence a public health issue and recommended that governments implement policies for its prevention and control. Since then PAHO has been working actively to publicize and combat this problem. The basic health interventions related to domestic violence include prevention strategies, care for victims, medical-legal certification of cases, treatment of the aggressors (with psychotherapy, for example), and notifying the authorities. …