FIGO Reaffirms Commitment: International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women (25 November 2009)

On 25 November 2009, FIGO reaffirms its commitment to the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women.

On 17 December 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated this day each year on which to invite governments, international organisations and NGOs to organise activities designed to raise public awareness of gender-based violence.

Through its Federation and Member Societies, FIGO is committed to increasing its profile to raise awareness and provide education and advocacy on serious and neglected issues affecting women’s health and lives globally. It is therefore actively involved in addressing the basic human right of a woman to live a life free of violence.

Gender-based violence affects women at all levels of society in all countries. While poverty is frequently a factor, the cultural context of a given society, including its tolerance of violence, is of greater influence. Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, the aim of Millennium Development Goal No 3, is known to be a critical factor, yet the target of equal education at all levels will not be enough in isolation to eliminate violence. Approaches to address gender-based violence need to be customised at the community level to effect behavioral change. The enabling of policies and laws sends a strong message at the national and international level.

What is gender-based violence?

• Sex selection and female feticide
• Female infanticide
• Differential education and feeding of girls/women
• Female genital mutilation/cutting
• Sexual abuse
• Trafficking of women and girls
• Child marriage
• Honour killings
• Intimate partner violence
• Coerced pregnancy or abortion
• Sexual violence
• ‘Virgin Cleansing’ HIV
• Rape of women with disabilities
• Sexual violence in armed conflict
• Inequitable access to healthcare of girls/women

What is the impact on women’s health?

The annual economic cost of intimate partner violence alone accounts for 3.3% of gross domestic product in the United States ($40.2billion in England and Wales). The consequences of gender-based violence include quantifiable physical and psychological injuries such as: HIV; sexually transmitted diseases; unintended pregnancy; adverse pregnancy outcomes; gynecological problems, including vaginal bleeding and vaginal infections; urinary tract infections; gastrointestinal disorders; irritable bowel syndrome; and various chronic pain syndromes, including chronic pelvic pain. Violence is also a significant and under-reported cause of maternal mortality.

Some statistics:

• Approximately one female feticide occurs every minute
• Almost 50% of sexual assaults occur in girls under age 15
• 11% to 32% of women report that they experienced sexual abuse in childhood
• Women with unwanted pregnancies are four times more likely to experience violence
• 13% to 61% of ever-partnered women experienced physical abuse by an intimate partner
• A woman is killed by her intimate partner in South Africa every six hours

What is FIGO’S stance?

 - Women will be valued equally with men
 - Both will have their rights respected

All women, everywhere, count.

What is FIGO’s aim?

• To enable the equal participation of women obstetricians/gynecologists in leadership and political roles at the country level and within FIGO
• To discuss and adapt/adopt the ‘FIGO Professional And Ethical  Responsibilities Concerning Sexual And Reproductive Rights’
• To raise awareness that violence is not acceptable
• To integrate services for girls and women who have been sexually assaulted
• To encourage non-participation in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)/cutting and female sex selection
• To support intervention programs

How is FIGO achieving this?

Developing robust guidelines for the management of sexual violence
At its recent triennial Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, FIGO held a meeting to discuss the ongoing development of ‘Guidelines For The Management Of Sexual Violence’. Implementation of the recommendations in these guidelines should result in more appropriate management of survivors of sexual violence; reduced risk of contraindicated practices and inadequate documentation; better psychological recovery; and prevention of STI, post-rape pregnancy and HIV.

Raising awareness of FGM
Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM (the ‘partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons’), is a traditional practice with known harmful effects on women’s reproductive and psychological health. It is practised in about 30 countries, including parts of West, East and Central Africa, some parts of the Middle East and South Asia. Around 140 million women and girls worldwide have already undergone this trauma; each year, tragically, a further three million join them. Migration has brought these women into contact with health professionals who often do not understand the cultural significance of the tradition. It is vital that these professionals are made fully aware of the consequences of FGM and how to manage them, treating women with dignity and understanding their life context.

FIGO believes that all women and girls have the right to live free from all forms of violence. In 1994, it passed a resolution at the Montreal FIGO General Assembly condemning FGM, and the committee for ethical aspects of reproductive health has two guidelines opposing it, the most recent concerning medicalisation. In 2008 the United Nations released a statement - ‘Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation’ - and called for its eradication within a generation.  Ten agencies - OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM and WHO - supported this announcement, and their position echoed by numerous NGOs and professional health and rights associations.

Education and advocacy activities of FIGO Member Societies
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Indonesia: colleagues at the Indonesian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology have been involved with the country’s Center for Reproductive Health at The University of Indonesia in the production and revision of standard procedure for delivering integrated reproductive healthcare, which includes counselling on domestic violence. The procedures are designed for use by clinic staff, residents and medical students. Medical records routinely record the number of domestic violence victims.

Mexico: members of the Federation of Mexican Gynecologists and Obstetricians have produced a comprehensive illustrated guideline on the appropriate management of a woman who has been sexually assaulted.

Nepal: The Nepal Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists organised a short interactive programme on ‘Eliminating Violence against Women’ in collaboration with the largest referral hospital in the country. This hospital has been selected as a model site for providing care and support to women affected by gender-based violence, and several training workshops and studies have already been conducted.

Norway: The Norwegian Society for Gynecology and Obstetrics has a special section and a professor dealing specifically with this matter at the University of Trondheim. A special unit has been created there to receive victims of sexual assault, whether children or adults. Over some years, an organisation of men against violence has also been particularly active.

Peru: Members of FIGO’s affiliate - Sociedad Peruana de Obstetricia y Ginecologia - have actively participated in marking the day by their involvement in video forums about violence and maternal mortality; awareness campaigns directed at health professionals and the general public; radio and television interviews; magazines and newspaper advertisements; and organised marches.