Women in Latin America and the Caribbean subject to widespread sexual violence: WHOListen /
Intimate partner and sexual violence against women is widespread in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a report published by PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization, a regional branch of the World Health Organization.
Alessandra Guedes, Regional Advisor on Intra-Family Violence at PAHO, spoke tome, Gerry Adams, about the report, which involved more than 180 thousand women in Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru.
Guedes: The report is titled "Violence against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean – a Comparative Analysis of Population-based Data from 12 Countries". And it is actually a joint effort between the Pan American Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States – the CDC.
And what we did is we, starting with existing national level data on violence against women that's resulted from the reproductive health surveys and national demographic health surveys for 12 countries in the region, we've carried out a comparative analysis of this data and so for the first time, we have a comparison of data from Latin America and the Caribbean on violence against women, its consequences.
Adams: And what did you find?
Guedes: We found, first of all, that unfortunately violence against women is widespread in the 12 countries that we studied and that were included in this report. We found for instance that between 17 percent of women and 53 percent of women interviewed reported having suffered physical or sexual violence intimate partner. And in fact in seven of the 12 countries, more than one in four women reported such violence.
We also found very high levels of emotional abuse by a partner ranging from 17 to 48 percent of women who were interviewed. So the key message is that this is unfortunately a very widespread phenomenon that affects a large proportion of women in our region.
Adams: Is this a surprise to anyone?
Guedes: Well, I've been working in this area for many years so I can't say that it surprises me because in a way we know that this is a widespread issue. Having said that, I think it's a number that should shock everyone, including those of us working on this issue. To have a country where more than half of women have suffered violence at the hands of a partner is outrageous and it really should shock us into further action.
Adams: This report also talks about violence against children.
Guedes: Sure so very interestingly, these reports also ask women retrospectively about their experiences with physical and sexual abuse prior to the age of 15. And what we looked at was the intersection between violence against women and violence against children. And what we found is that there are multiple connections between these two different types of violence.
For instance, in all of the countries that we studied, women who grew up in households where their mother was beaten by her partner had a greater risk of suffering partner violence themselves as adults. We also found that women who suffered physical or sexual abuse in childhood reported experiencing partner violence in adulthood twice as much as those who did not suffer violence in childhood.
And finally, we also found that children living in households where women suffer partner violence were significantly more likely than other children to be punished with hitting, beating, spanking – in other words, with harsher disciplinary practices.
Adams: I see that Jamaica was one of the countries that was in the study.
Guedes: Yes. Jamaica and Haiti were included in this study as was the Dominican Republic. We found very high levels of sexual violence in Jamaica. And this is consistent with other sources of data that we have available to us that show us that sexual violence is a very serious issue in the Caribbean. So that's something very concerning to us.
Adams: How do you plan to use this report to help women in these situations?
Guedes: well I think that one of the key impetus to work on this report was precisely to shed light not only with regard to the magnitude of this violence in the region, but also its consequences and intersections with different types of violence. So I think one of our main goals is to raise awareness based on very high quality data and engage governments and civil society to work to prevent inter-response to violence against women. The Pan American Health Organization supports Member States' efforts in different areas. We work to improve the quality and use of data for evidence-based policy and programming and this report is an example of that.
We also work to strengthen the health sector response to survivors so that women who have been victimized have access to high quality health care and other types of services.
Adams: Alessandra Guedes, Regional Advisor on Intra-Family Violence at the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO.
Gerry Adams, United Nations.