Violence against women

The United Nations 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” (1) Violence against women is a significant public health problem and violation of women’s human rights. (2) WHO estimates that 1 in 3 women worldwide have been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or another in their lifetime, with most being intimate partner violence. (2) Around 38% of all murders of women globally are committed by an intimate partner. (2)

As per the 2016 Personal Safety Survey of Australian women, 1 in 3 had experienced physical violence whilst 1 in 5 has experienced sexual violence. (3) Moreover, 1 in 4 of these women experienced violence by an intimate partner since 15. (3) Furthermore, 68% of women who had experienced violence by an ex-partner reported that children have seen/heard the violence. The 2019 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report showed that, on average, one woman was killed every nine days by a partner between July 2014 and June 2016. (3) Indigenous females were 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than non-Indigenous females. (3) Meanwhile, another study highlighted that lesbian, bisexual and heteroflexible women are twice as likely to experience physical violence by a partner than heterosexual, cis-gendered women. (4) Women with disabilities also experience a higher rate of violence specific to their disability whilst immigrant, and refugee women suffer violence unique to the social situation surrounding migration and settlement. (5) These facts raise significant concerns for women’s physical, mental, sexual, social, and reproductive health. Violence against women can also negatively impact the health of Australian children, and there should be increasing efforts to support Indigenous women, lesbian, bisexual and heteroflexible women, women with disabilities and refugee and immigrant women at risk and/or has experienced violence.

Many consequences of violence exist, including physical injuries, sexually transmitted infections, depression associated with pregnancy, birth or termination, long-term disabilities, chronic mental health and behaviours changes like harmful alcohol or substance use. (5) In Australia, it is estimated that intimate partner violence contributes 5.1% to the disease burden in women aged 18–44 and 2.2 % of the burden in women of all ages. (5) Burden of disease in Indigenous women is five times that of non-Indigenous women. (5)

COVID-19 and escalation of Violence Against Women

Since the beginning of lockdown measures in the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an alarming increase in intimate partner violence against women worldwide. (6). Victims and offenders spending more time together, increased social isolation, decreased avenues for women to seek, financial stress, alcohol consumption has been identified as contributors to this increase. (7) It was estimated that for every three months of lockdown, an alarming 15 million women worldwide were expected to be affected by violence. (8) Thus, in April 2020 UN Secretary-General Urged all governments to include prevention and redress of violence against women in national response plans for COVID-19. (8)

In Australia, despite an increase in calls for support since February 2020, incidents reported to police have not increased. (7) A possible explanation for this trend is that most women experiencing violence in their relationships do not engage with police or other agencies. (7) In an online survey of 15000 Australian women during the Covid-19 pandemic, 2/3 of the participants reported that violence started or escalated during the pandemic. (7)

Doctors play an integral part in tackling Violence Against Women

The health sector has a vital role in providing comprehensive health care to women subject to violence, including referring women to other support services they may need. (2) ABS 2012 Personal Safety Survey confirmed that women who have experienced or are at risk of family and domestic violence prefer to seek support from those they feel will understand and validate their experiences, including their doctors. (9) Therefore, medical practitioners should understand how to deal with family/domestic violence and recognised referral pathways for these women. Nine times out of 10, the first person they tell is their GP. (10) GPs thus play an integral part in identifying the initial concerns of women and children experience domestic violence as explored in RACGP Women In General Practice Conference 2015 webinar. (Listen further to this fantastic discussion on the role of a GP in Domestic violence here

However, many healthcare providers are fearful of exploring women’s experience of violence, mainly due to a perceived lack of skills to handle such situations and concerns about the legal process involved. Organisations such as Women’s Health Victoria offer workshops centred around the Prevention of Violence Against Women. Meanwhile, as members of the public, it is important that we arm ourselves with skills to stand up for women experiencing violence. Gender Equity Victoria’s Online Active Bystander Project has produced a handy toolkit to respond to harassment on social media. Read further here. Also, see Monash University’s online module on Becoming an active bystander.

What is being done?

AFMW and VMWS

  • The Australian Government is building the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The National Plan endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments was released in 2011 with an aim to facilitate and increase collaboration of all governments, community organisations and individuals to reduce violence against women. (11) Members of AFMW submitted responses to the DSS Engage survey to provide recommendations to the Government to inform priorities and direction of the next National plan. Read more about current The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 here or read one page overview including translated summaries here.
  • AFMW 2021 statement on climate change also highlighted that climate change leads to poor access to adequate reproductive services and consequently sexual violence against women.
  • AFMW President, A/Professor Magdalena Simonis discussed how funding GPs is critical to protecting women from violence. Read here.
  • In 2013, VMWS Past President A/Prof Magdalena Simonis attended the 57th Commission of the Status of Women, held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where she spoke about the “Primary prevention of violence against women through work place intervention”. Read further about this presentation here.
  • AFMW and VMWS together with Australian Women’s Coalition (AWC) launched Happy Healthy Women, Not Just Survivors advocating for long-term model of care for survivors of sexual violence in 2010. Following on from the summit the briefing paper released reviews the literature on long-term physical and psychological health impacts of sexual trauma in women. Also highlighted in this review is how medical education and practice can be enhanced to ensure improved health of women. Read further here.

 

External organisations

  • Launched in 2008 UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign conducted 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence from Nov 25 to Dec 10 under 2020 Global theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’, advocating for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. Read further here.
  • March4Justice occurred on the 15 of March for equality, justice, respect and to end gendered violence in workplace. Read more here.
  • Read about action plan to tackle violence against women developed by the Generation Equality Forum 2021 here.
  • Read about the COVID-19 and ending violence against women and girls report by United Nations Women makes recommendations for all sectors of society to prevent and respond to violence against women and girl especially in public health crisis here.
  • Read further about stories from frontline women worldwide battling the rise of violence against women and girls here.
  • Read further about AMA Position on Family and Domestic Violence and role of medical practitioner in domestic and family violence here.
  • White Ribbon Australia, a social movement to eliminated gendered violence. Read further here.
  • Doctors Against Violence towards women.
  • One in six women in the workforce are affected by some form of violence in their home meaning effects of domestic violence reaches into nearly all workplaces. Read about Australian Unions Workplace Campaign ‘We Won’t Wait’ calling for a minimum of ten days of paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave to be included in national workplace laws to help women escape violent situations here.

 

Further reading

  1. United Nations. Declaration on the elimination of violence against women. New York : UN, 1993.
  2. Violence against women (who.int)
  3. Useful statistics – National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (dss.gov.au)
  4. Quick facts | Our Watch | Preventing violence against women – Our Watch
  5. Violence against women in Australia. An overview of research and approaches to primary prevention,
    Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne, Australia.
  6. 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence | UN Women – Headquarters
  7. The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic (aic.gov.au)
  8. UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign | What we do: Ending violence against women and girls | UN Women – Headquarters
  9. Family and Domestic Violence – 2016 | Australian Medical Association (ama.com.au))
  10. Women say ‘I have to have sex to keep us safe’: Call for Medicare-funded family violence plans – Australian Federation of Medical Women (afmw.org.au)