You are here

Bangkok, Thailand – Recognizing the urgent need to step up efforts to tackle violence against women (VAW), representatives from several countries across South Asia are in Bangkok this week for a workshop organized by the United Nations Population Fund Asia-Pacific Regional Office (UNFPA APRO). The focus: how to gather better national data on the prevalence of VAW, so as to strengthen the evidence base to help governments formulate better, more effective strategies to tackle the challenge.

“Key studies in the past, collating prevalence data from many countries around the world, estimated that at least one out of three women will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, often at the hands of their intimate partners including their spouses, but many researchers feel the real number may be much higher,” said Lubna Baqi, Regional Director a.i., UNFPA APRO.

“Although prevalence studies remain the best way in which we get such data, the data gathering process must be strengthened and scaled up significantly. Moreover, women who experience violence must be able to report it to relevant authorities, as well as share their experiences with those conducting studies on VAW, in a safe and enabling environment free of fear and intimidation.”

UNFPA APRO has been pressing for robust and safe data collection on VAW to support policies and programmes in the region. Two years ago, UNFPA APRO held a workshop together with the ASEAN Committee on Women to strengthen national capacities to collect data on violence against women in the ASEAN region. This week’s workshop for SAARC countries is meant to do the same across South Asia. Participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will hear the experiences of other countries, including some in the ASEAN region, in scaling up their response to VAW, including better ways in which to conduct prevalence studies.

In the Asia-Pacific region, VAW studies have taken place in many countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Maldives, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, Viet Nam and 11 Pacific Island nations. In the Viet Nam study, 3 out of 10 women recounted physical or sexual violence by their husbands, while in the Fiji study twice as many women, two out of three, reported ever having experienced such violence by a male partner.

Prevalence studies usually involve interviews using specially trained female interviewers. Any woman can be chosen to be interviewed, the interviewer does not know in advance anything about the woman’s lives, and the woman does not know in advance that she will be asked questions on violence.

“In doing prevalence studies, we know that many women interviewed have never told anyone before about their experience with violence,” explained Henrica Jansen, VAW Researcher at UNFPA APRO.

“This happens for a number of reasons – their husbands or partners might find out and beat them up again, or they are afraid they won’t be taken seriously or may even be blamed for having “provoked” the violence in the first place. These fears cause a sense of crippling isolation and guilt. The silence, the stigma and the prejudice involved keep the crisis hidden.”

Therefore it is all the more crucial that interviewers have the right training and take proper measures to keep the interviewed women safe and their stories confidential. That will eventually help researchers and governments obtain a significant database of reports from women willing to speak out about their experiences so as to collectively provide as close as possible a picture of the true VAW situation in a country.

Preventing violence against women is a key pillar of UNFPA’s mandate. Governments have an obligation to address VAW seriously. This includes: defining violence against women more clearly, to cover a range of situations; strengthening methodologies for gathering data on VAW; using the data gathered to strengthen legislation to protect women from such violence; making it easier for women to report without fear of reprisals; and working more closely with civil society to build trust, to better achieve all these outcomes.

“Countries in South Asia, and indeed across Asia and the Pacific, have increasingly recognized the need for urgent action on VAW which is a genuine crisis,” concluded Baqi. “Ultimately, reliable national data needs to be strategically and urgently used by governments for taking the steps that are necessary to protect the well-being and the lives of millions of women in our region, and around the world. UNFPA is there to support these efforts.”