The pandemic that threatens women globally

The #MeToo campaign has shed light on sexual harassment and assault in shocking ways. The legal and political fallout...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 8:17 AM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 8:17 AM

The #MeToo campaign has shed light on sexual harassment and assault in shocking ways. The legal and political fallout, from Harvey Weinstein to convicted US Olympics doctor Larry Nassar, marks a shift in our culture. But noticeably absent from the conversation is how to support women's health and reduce violence against women and girls (VAWG).

VAWG can be physical, emotional or psychological and has many forms, including rape, domestic abuse, child marriage, sex trafficking, and honor killings. As an obstetrician and gynecologist concerned with women's health and an epidemiologist studying patterns of disease, I have come to think of VAWG as a disease pandemic.

Unlike a viral disease, the root causes of VAWG are sociopolitical, like gender inequality. But just like the virus that causes the flu, the ideas that lead to VAWG spread, infect and pose a threat to societies worldwide.

Consider the facts: 1 in 3 women and girls in the world are directly affected by the most common forms of VAWG in their lifetimes -- physical and sexual intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. This increases their risk for many serious health outcomes, including traumatic brain injury, HIV, depression and, at the extreme, death. Violence during pregnancy can also trigger a maternal stress response, increasing risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.

VAWG can elude detection by healthcare providers, as it often leaves no physical marks. And it can devastate economies -- the lifetime cost of rape for all reported survivors in the United States is nearly 3.1 trillion dollars.

Around the world, many women and girls experiencing violence trust health services as a first contact. A number of women have shared their stories with me, including stories of domestic abuse, yet in my efforts to advocate for them, I've received dismissive responses from health authorities; VAWG is "hard to do anything about," or it doesn't have anything to do with medical specialties.

I've seen this dismissive attitude manifest itself in health professionals' attitudes and actions (or lack thereof). Just take the case of MC, a woman who was admitted to a hospital in Los Angeles in danger of miscarrying due to the actions of an abusive husband:

"I told the obstetric nurse that my husband wasn't a good person. ... Nobody asked me if he was violent or referred me to any service. ... In Stockholm a year later, after I left him and he attacked me, I went to the hospital and they just looked at my wounds. ... They didn't put me in contact with anyone or follow up with me. ... They ignored it all," she said.

MC told me her period of abuse might have been shortened if she had received support from the medical professionals she reached out to.

MC's experience is not an isolated story. In regions around the world, I've seen women and girls experiencing VAWG not receive the complete medical care they need. This includes the USA -- a study published in 2013 showed over 80% of emergency departments in the USA did not provide complete medical care after rape.

There is a disturbing pattern here. Health systems around the world are often not recognizing VAWG as a health problem. According to Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, who leads the World Health Organization's work on Violence Against Women, VAWG is underfunded in health budgets worldwide. Countries do not have or are slow to implement guidelines for clinicians on how to provide appropriate care. And thousands of doctors, nurses and midwives are graduating without any formal training on how to provide the care that is needed for VAWG.

So, what should be done? For starters, instead of thinking of VAWG as a problem that's hard to do anything about, let's see it as a preventable disease. Strategies to prevent and reduce the number of cases won't fit into a syringe; rather, they assume the form of interventions like educational and economic empowerment programs aimed at root causes of VAWG, such as gender inequality.

Evidence shows these interventions work to reduce the number of cases of VAWG -- and they don't take generations, but just a few years. For example, a study in Uganda had community leaders work with men and women to learn to equalize power dynamics over 3 years. This cut a woman's risk of physical violence from a partner in half.

Everyone has a role to play in fighting this disease. Health policymakers: prioritize VAWG in budgets and develop and implement guidelines to help health providers to support women and girls. Health educators: provide training at every medical and nursing school on how to treat patients who are experiencing VAWG. Doctors, nurses and midwives: consider VAWG as a health threat to your patients. Philanthropists and funders: support scientists and programs working for gender equality and other root causes to reduce VAWG. And everyone else: voice your support for the efforts being made to eradicate VAWG.

When the human body is infected by a virus, it mounts an immune response to rid the body of the virus. Let's all be a part of the global immune response against VAWG.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 39133

Reported Deaths: 1514
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin12597787
Ramsey4963229
Dakota242192
Stearns241419
Anoka2266109
Nobles16726
Olmsted114715
Washington113740
Mower9602
Rice8488
Scott7624
Clay59138
Kandiyohi5781
Blue Earth4942
Wright4835
Todd4012
Carver3951
Lyon3272
Sherburne3255
Freeborn2970
Watonwan2380
Steele2371
Benton2203
St. Louis19615
Nicollet17312
Martin1715
Cottonwood1360
Goodhue1318
Winona12915
Crow Wing10812
Le Sueur1081
Pine1070
Chisago1021
Otter Tail1001
McLeod920
Dodge880
Carlton870
Unassigned8537
Polk822
Chippewa791
Isanti750
Waseca710
Douglas650
Murray650
Itasca6412
Meeker611
Morrison611
Faribault600
Pipestone592
Becker570
Jackson550
Sibley542
Pennington520
Renville362
Beltrami340
Brown342
Mille Lacs342
Wabasha330
Rock310
Fillmore300
Yellow Medicine300
Houston270
Swift221
Wilkin213
Norman200
Redwood190
Koochiching181
Grant170
Roseau170
Cass162
Aitkin150
Big Stone150
Kanabec151
Wadena150
Marshall120
Pope120
Lincoln100
Mahnomen101
Clearwater90
Hubbard80
Lake60
Stevens50
Traverse50
Lac qui Parle40
Red Lake40
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 32064

Reported Deaths: 731
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6739181
Woodbury326044
Black Hawk232358
Buena Vista171911
Johnson13408
Linn130482
Dallas129129
Marshall106019
Scott84510
Story8063
Pottawattamie74512
Dubuque74222
Wapello70830
Crawford6783
Muscatine64944
Sioux4810
Tama46829
Wright3851
Louisa36313
Jasper32517
Plymouth3245
Warren2911
Dickinson2663
Webster2484
Washington2459
Cerro Gordo1901
Hamilton1891
Boone1501
Clay1370
Allamakee1334
Clarke1333
Mahaska11717
Shelby1170
Clinton1131
Poweshiek1078
Carroll991
Pocahontas981
Bremer957
Franklin950
Des Moines912
Emmet870
Henry863
Cedar851
Hardin810
Taylor800
Monona770
Cherokee761
Floyd732
Marion710
Benton681
Guthrie684
Jones640
Sac640
Jefferson620
Osceola620
Buchanan601
Butler592
Hancock551
Humboldt551
Calhoun542
Harrison540
Lee542
Iowa530
Delaware511
Monroe517
Fayette500
Madison482
Lyon450
Clayton443
Davis411
Mitchell410
Palo Alto410
Grundy400
Mills390
Winneshiek390
Kossuth360
Howard340
Jackson340
Union340
Lucas314
Chickasaw290
Greene290
Winnebago290
Cass240
Ida230
Appanoose213
Keokuk211
Van Buren210
Page200
Worth200
Adair160
Audubon161
Unassigned160
Ringgold150
Decatur120
Montgomery102
Wayne100
Adams80
Fremont80
Rochester
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 74°
Mason City
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 72°
Albert Lea
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 75°
Austin
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 75°
Charles City
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 75°
Heat Advisory in effect until 7pm
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Reopening NIACC Safely

Image

Social Justice Program Gets Underway

Image

Group gathers to pray for racial justice

Image

Prep athletes eager to get back into the weight room

Image

Sean's 6pm Weather 7/8

Image

Bishop writes to ask for clemency for Dustin Honken

Image

Catch a ride to stay cool

Image

Free masks in Rochester

Image

Boys & Girls Club back open

Image

Rochester Elementary School releases plans

Community Events