Statement on World Health Day

05 April 2001

The United Nations Population Fund joins the World Health Organization (WHO) in celebrating World Health Day, which falls on 7 April, and is devoted this year to Mental Health. The Day’s slogan, "Stop exclusion, Dare to care", is a call to action to generate long-term actions, promote tolerance, inspire self-reflection and encourage those making a difference to stay the course. In this context, the UNFPA emphasizes its strong commitment to mental health, particularly in dealing with the effects of violence against women and girls. Such violence is a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Its psychological and physical consequences have a direct bearing on the reproductive and sexual health of girls and women.

At least one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some way, most often by someone she knows. Violence against women knows no age, class or race, and affects the emotional lives of women and families. It can cause immense psychological problems. Among the most common reactions to violence affecting mental health are depression, fear, anxiety, fatigue, low self-esteem and post-traumatic stress disorder. Violence can also cause extensive damage to women's reproductive health and well-being, resulting in unwanted pregnancies; miscarriages; gynaecological problems; and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

In the face of these global problems, many countries have, thankfully, put in place policies and legislation to shield women from violence. In yet others, women's groups, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups campaign for similar measures. Further, programmes that are meant to change community attitudes towards gender-based violence are proving most helpful.

All over the world, the UNFPA supports activities and advocacy to improve the status of women and point out the harmful effects of violence on families, women and girls, as well as on society as a whole. The Fund fights violence against women in several ways. It supports the training of health workers on how to help victims of such violence and the enforcement of relevant laws. It involves men in reproductive health issues to generate greater awareness about unequal gender relations and violence against women. It supports counselling and advocates zero tolerance of all forms of gender-based violence. The UNFPA also campaigns for the eradication of harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation.

Many women do not discuss violence. Instead, they suffer in silence because they lack someone they can trust to listen sensitively and give helpful advice. To help break this silence, the Fund is embarking on an innovative strategy to assist victims of violence by integrating the assessment and treatment of violence into reproductive health services. Reproductive health facilities are ideal places for such activities, since countless women already visit them and talk about their lives. It is issuing a manual entitled, A Practical Approach to Gender-Based Violence: A Programme Guide for Health Care Providers and Managers. Prepared by the UNFPA in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and WHO, it offers step-by-step guidance on how reproductive health facilities can address violence against women. The guide focuses on its three most common forms: childhood sexual abuse; domestic violence; and rape or sexual assault. Women's lives can start to change when they speak up on the violence in their lives and receive sensitive care. This can then enable them to take the first steps to begin healing from the effect of abuse.

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