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December 2008 Edition

Champion of Health
Singer José José Denounces Violence against Women

José José, the Latin balladeer, was named a PAHO Champion of Health on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Dec. 4. Photo by David Spitz/PAHO

At least one in three women in Latin America and the Caribbean have suffered violence at the hands of an intimate partner, and in some countries as many as 60 percent, according to data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) presented on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Dec. 4.

"Gender-based violence is the most prevalent and complex human rights abuse and public health problem that we deal with," said PAHO Director Mirta Roses. It affects women's health and, in the worst cases, can result in women's deaths. Moreover, "Gender-based violence affects children, families, and communities, as it erodes the social cohesion so necessary for healthy lifestyles," said Roses.

To mark the international day, PAHO released a new book on alcohol and domestic violence, held two panel discussions on these topics, and honored Latin singer José José as a PAHO Champion of Health.

In accepting the honor, the acclaimed Mexican balladeer described his troubled upbringing as the son of an alcoholic who beat his wife and died at age 45. The singer described his own struggles with alcoholism and the challenges of overcoming violence against women in a culture that traditionally has glorified machismo and belittled the concept of gender equality.

"I am convinced that everything that happens in the life of a man or woman comes from the example they see when they are children," said José José. "With our behavior, with our errors, we end up programming our children."

Albert Ramdin, assistant secretary general of the Organization ofAmerican States, spoke at the event, saying, "Even the best laws and policies cannot bring about the eradication of violence if cultural patterns of inequality and sexism are not addressed at the same time in a long-term process that must engage the media, the state, and civil society in general."

PAHO's new book on intimate partner violence is Unhappy Hours: Alcohol and Partner Aggression in the Americas. It presents evidence from 10 countries that shows that the consumption of large amounts of alcohol is associated with increased risk of both perpetrating and being a victim of intimate partner violence in both men and women. Rates of violence are higher among younger couples and for common-law unions, divorced or separated couples, and singles than for legally married couples. Frequency of alcohol consumption is not significantly associated with violence.

A key finding in the book is that whilemen can be victims, women suffer more from intimate partner violence. They report more severe aggression and greater feelings of fear and anger than men, and are more likely to seek medical attention for their injuries.

Kathryn Graham, of Canada's Centre for Addiction andMental Health (CAMH) and coeditor of the book, said the research suggests that public health interventions should focus on prevention and deterrence, not just services for victims. "We should reduce all violence, against both men and women, but women should be our highest priority since they suffer the most from intimate partner violence."

Maristela Monteiro, PAHO's senior advisor on alcohol and substance abuse and coordinator of the new book, said, "Effective policies to reduce heavy episodic consumption of alcohol need to be promoted as an integral part of policies and programs to reduce domestic violence."

The PAHO book is based on research carried out as part of the GENACIS project (Gender, Alcohol and Culture: An International Study). The countries in the study were Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Brazil, Belize, Nicaragua, Peru,Mexico, Uruguay, and the United States.




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