That predators continue to enjoy impunity for crimes committed against women is now common knowledge. But less known is the fact that the worst perpetrators are often those most intimately known to women, or that the latter are vulnerable in consequence to life-long health-related risks. These frightening revelations are contained in a recent World Health Organisation report, issued in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council. Globally, 38 per cent of women who are murdered are killed by their intimate partners. Some 30 per cent of women worldwide are victims of brutalities perpetrated by their close partners. Not to mention that 35 per cent of all women experience abuse of some form or the other and 42 per cent sustain injuries during their lifetime. Little wonder then that domestic violence constitutes a distinct category by itself under criminal law, begging the question whether the home is a place that protects personal privacy or is an impenetrable fortress shielding those guilty of despicable crimes. Given the severe impact of domestic violence on the physical and mental health of women, the report describes the situation as a global health problem of epidemic proportions. Apart from the more visible manifestations of broken limbs, there are often complications linked to pregnancy, and low birth weight babies that more directly impact the next generation. Moreover, women who endure abuse from partners are twice as likely to suffer from depression, alcohol abuse and sexually-transmitted infections compared to others.
Governments must heed WHO’s call to incorporate its latest clinical and policy guidelines into the medical and nursing curricula. These emphasise the need to train health workers at all levels to elicit relevant information from victims in a private setting, ensuring complete confidentiality. Significantly, India was among the seven countries that endorsed a declaration in May at the 66th World Health Assembly that regards violence against girls and women as a major public health, gender equality and human rights challenge. Unsurprisingly, the country is among those worst affected in terms of violence against women from partners. For New Delhi, part of the answer at least clearly lies in an effective enforcement of the law on domestic violence. But more fundamental and urgent is the shift in age-old cultural attitudes that entrench patriarchal power relations between the sexes. One that is an affront to a sense of basic human dignity and equal respect.
This editorial has been corrected for a factual error