World Health Organization


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The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations System. It supports the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined in WHO's Constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. WHO supports countries as they coordinate the efforts of multiple sectors of the government and partners to attain their health objectives and support their national health policies and strategies. WHO’s work on violence against women spans more than twenty years and includes: a) Building the evidence base on the size and nature of violence against women in different countries and developing methodologies and ethical and safety guidelines for measuring violence and its consequences; b) Establishing norms and standards for the health systems’ response to violence against women, particularly for intimate partner violence, sexual violence and female genital mutilation, including development of guidelines and tools (e.g. clinical handbook, training curricula, capacity assessment tools, strengthening health system job aids); c) Supporting countries (Ministries of Health and other relevant partners) to implement such tools, including in humanitarian settings and through participation in the Joint UN Programme on essential services for women subject to violence; d) Building evidence through research and data collection and development of prevalence estimates and global monitoring for different forms of VAW; e) Advocacy for strengthening the role of the health sector in multisectoral response to address VAW and for the integration of strategies to address VAW in existing health programmes such as those for sexual and reproductive and maternal and child health, HIV prevention, mental health, adolescent health and others.

Policy framework

See main instruments above. In addition, WHO’s work on violence against women is based on several resolutions by its governing bodies: World Health Assembly Resolution WHA49.25, Prevention of violence: a public health priority (1996); World Health Assembly Resolution WHA50.19, Prevention of Violence(1997); World Health Assembly Resolution WHA56.24, Implementing the recommendations of the World report on violence and health (2003); African Regional Committee Resolution AFR/RC54/R6, Child sexual abuse: a silent health emergency (2004); and the European Regional Committee Resolution EUR/RC55/10, Prevention of injuries in the WHO European Region. In May 2008 the World Health Assembly, adopted a resolution against FGM, which urges all Member States to, among others, enact and enforce legislation, support and enhance community-based efforts, and develop and promote guidelines for care of victims. More recently, the2014 World Health Assembly resolution WHA67.15 on “Strengthening the role of the health system in addressing violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children” ; Strategy and Plan of Action on Strengthening the Health System to Address Violence against Women, PAHO (2015); and World Health Assembly resolution WHA 69.5 WHO global plan of action to strengthen the role of the health system within a national multisectoral response to address interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children (2016).

Areas of Focus

WHO supports and undertakes research, develops guidelines and tools, strengthens the capacity of national health systems to develop policy and strengthen their response and services for survivors of violence against women and engages in advocacy and partnerships to address violence against women. Its efforts on violence against women include intimate partner violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), child and adolescent sexual abuse, child abuse and maltreatment, and violence against health workers. WHO also collaborates with IOM on the health of migrants and people who have been trafficked, including responding to violence. This work is being undertaken across a number of areas of work in WHO and by the different levels in WHO: at Headquarters, regional and country level. WHO participates in many UN inter-agency activities, processes, and partnerships, including UN Action (on sexual violence in conflict), the the Inter-agency Standing Committee, the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) on reproductive health in humanitarian settings, the response to gender based violence in humanitarian settings through the health cluster, and UNAIDS Outcome Framework. It participates in the UN Joint Programme on Essential services for women subject to violence and a Joint Programme on strengthening methodologies and measurement and building national capacities for VAW data.


Gender based violence quality assurance tool (standards for the provision of high quality post-violence care in health facilities (2018)

Responding to children and adolescents who have been sexually abused: WHO clinical guidelines (2017)

Strengthening health systems to respond to women subjected to intimate partner violence or sexual violence: A manual for health managers (2017) Global plan of action to strengthen the role of the health system within a national multisectoral response to address interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children (2016)

Ethical and safety recommendations for intervention research on violence against women. Building on lessons from the WHO publication: Putting women first: ethical and safety recommendations for research on domestic violence against women (2016)

Strengthening the medico-legal response to sexual violence (2015) (with UNODC)

Health care for women subjected to intimate partner violence or sexual violence: a clinical handbook – field testing version (2014) (with UNW and UNFPA)

Responding to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women: WHO clinical and policy guidelines (2013)

Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence (2013)

16 Ideas for addressing violence against women in the context of the HIV epidemic: A programming tool (2013)

Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence: taking action and generating evidence, 2010

WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women – Report – initial results on prevalence, health outcomes and women’s responses (2005)