Washington, D.C., 8 March 2013 (PAHO/WHO) — In observance of International Women's Day, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is calling on the health sector to redouble its efforts in primary prevention, identification of abuse, and care for women who suffer violence in any form.

Under the slogan "A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women," this year's International Women's Day (March 8) seeks to strengthen the commitment of the international community to preventing violence against women.

"Violence against women is a public health problem and a violation of women's rights," said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. "The health sector has a critical role to play in breaking the cycle of violence. Health services and health personnel can identify cases of abuse early and respond with quality, confidential care that can reduce harm and improve access to services needed for a violence-free life. We can also contribute to prevention through strategies for health education throughout the life cycle that promote gender equality and respect the different needs of women and men."

A report published by PAHO/WHO in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2013 shows that in 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, between 17% and 53% of women surveyed reported having been victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. In seven of the countries, at least one in four women reported having suffered from such violence.

The health sector—in collaboration with other sectors, including the judicial sector—plays a key role in identifying women at risk of violence, providing emergency medical attention, and helping women and girls get access to protection and support services. Improving the quality of sexual and reproductive health services also contributes to better identification of possible victims of violence and facilitates counseling in areas such as HIV prevention and family planning, among others.

PAHO continues to promote the U.N. Secretary-General's campaign "Unite to end violence against women" through efforts to strengthen the evidence base on violence against women and children, promote primary prevention, and improve the health sector response for survivors. PAHO is also implementing a policy and plan of action that promotes gender equality in all health policies.

PAHO works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.