How to Integrate Violence Against Women Prevention, Response in Health

A doctor checks the pulse of an elderly female patient in Sri Lanka.
A doctor checks the pulse of an elderly female patient in Sri Lanka.

By Laurence Levaque

A quick reference for health specialists to address violence against women and girls.

As part of ADB’s support for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Global Campaign that ends today and in celebration of the Human Rights Day, here is a quick reference for health specialists to address violence against women and girls (VAWG).

VAWG is a violation of human rights. It is also a major cause of ill health among women and girls and is therefore seen as a global public health problem – 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non-partner. In addition to the serious consequences that violence can have on women and girls’ physical health, a 2013 World Health Organization study shows that women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners are 16% more likely to have a low-birth weight baby, more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and in some regions 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, compared to women who have not experienced partner violence. 

This is why we need to strengthen health care systems and develop an integrated health sector approach to prevent and deal with VAWG. Projects in the health sector present a very good opportunity to integrate VAWG prevention and response efforts. Below are possible entry points to do so.

Legislation and policies

  • Advocate for adoption, enactment/review, amendment of legislation and national policies on VAWG, especially those related to the health sector and VAWG.
  • Develop clinical and policy guidelines on VAWG prevention and response.
  • Collaborate with public health/medical research institute to conduct research on VAWG and provide recommendations to policy-makers.
  • Integrate data on VAWG in the health monitoring and information system.
  • Establish multi-sectoral coordination committees at the national and local level that include representatives from the health sector..

Prevention and treatment/support services

  • Integrate VAWG prevention and response into existing health programs and services such as basic and primary health care services (violence prevention services at the community level through group discussions, video, drama, prevention workshops for the youth);  sexual and reproductive health, especially targeting young girls and boys; and HIV prevention programs.
  • Provide comprehensive clinical care services for survivors of VAWG, and ensure regular supply of medicine and equipment.
  • Create a strong referral network. Enhance access to other specialized and social support services through establishing or strengthening linkages with local service providers and relevant CSOs (social, counseling, legal and financial service providers), and create a local services directory.
  • Work with relevant CSOs to support the creation and functioning of community self-help groups of women/girls affected by violence.
  • In highly populated areas, establish crisis centers with dedicated trained health care providers and social workers – if deemed necessary in addition to the creation of a strong referral system.
  • Consider carefully the introduction of routine screening of VAWG upon the following conditions: a protocol exists/will be developed; health care professionals are trained in providing ‘first-line support’; and there is a strong network among service providers at the local level for survivors of VAWG.

Pre- and in-service training for health care professionals

  • Include a module on VAWG into clinical training, and provide continuing education for health care professionals.  
  • Depending on the level of health care system (community-based health care or specialized/curative care) and area of specialization, these are some areas that can be considered for training:  first-line support such as emotional support, STI and HIV prophylaxis, emergency contraception; on how to detect women and girls subject to violence; on how to address different kinds of VAWG and deal with such cases in a gender sensitive manner; forensic evidence collection; privacy and confidentiality; referral system; gender and VAWG to ensure non-judgmental attitude; violence prevention education and interventions; counseling; diagnosis and management of behavioral disorders.

Safe physical environment

  • Ensure consultations can take place in a private setting.

This is the last of a series of 4 blogs about ADB’s support to the global campaign to mobilize people to take a stand on VAWG between 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and Human Rights Day on 10 December.