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Develop national and sub-national policies or action plans on a comprehensive health sector approach

Last edited: February 25, 2011

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  • National policies (or action plans) are necessary as a basis and guiding framework for delivering services.  They can provide important information about how relevant laws should be implemented.
  • At the most essential level, national policies should recognize violence against women as a public health issue and outline principles for caring for survivors based in a human rights and gender perspective.  They should take into account the needs of special populations, including girls, and consider issues of diversity related to language, ethnicity, and cultures (Ellsberg and Arcas, 2001).
  • National policies should also outline a plan for implementation, which may include how to increase services and resources incrementally, and how these services and resources will be funded (Claramunt and Cortes, 2003).
  • In some instances, the health sector services and programmes that address violence against women and girls can be integrated into a larger national policy on violence against women that places the health sector within a multisectoral framework that highlights cooperation, division of labour, and referral networks among all the key sectors engaged in violence prevention and response.  The components of national policies that affect the health sector might include a range of support services for victims/survivors; educational outreach for prevention and to acquaint women with their rights and the resources available to them; and capacity building for staff and officials.  National multisectoral policies also include judicial and security sector services aimed at prosecution, punishment and rehabilitation of perpetrators. Generally, if there is a national multisectoral policy on violence against women, the health sector will need to elaborate sector-specific action plans, protocols, and or guidelines that address key forms of violence against women and health care for survivors.  


  • National policies may also focus on how to integrate violence against women into different types of health services, especially those most frequented by women (e.g. reproductive health services). It is important to consider complementary health frameworks, since many women who experience violence will rarely seek help from a stand-alone service.  They are more likely to seek other health services from hospitals, health clinics, and other primary and secondary health facilities, and those that provide health care for their children; therefore it is important to ensure that violence against women and girls is accounted for in various health frameworks (Colombini, Mayhew and Watts, 2008).
  • National policies should provide a model for other policies that are developed at sub-national levels (regional, district, etc.). Sub-national policies are useful in contextualizing the national policy.  They may also be developed in place of a national policy where one does not exist.



EXAMPLES of National Health Policies Addressing Violence against Women







National Domestic Violence Policy

In 2010, the United Kingdom Government released Improving Services for Women and Child Victims of Violence: the Department of Health Action Plan, articulating the Health Department’s role in evidence and information, raising awareness, training its workforce, and improving the quality of services.


In 2008, the Australian Government appointed an 11 member National Council to provide advice on the development of an evidence-based National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. In 2009, the council produced Time for Action: the National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2009-2021 (the Plan of Action). The National Plan intends to bring together the efforts of all service systems for the common goals of preventing violence, delivering justice for victims and improving services. 


In 2007, the Government of Turkey launched a three year Combating Domestic Violence Against Women National Action Plan (2007-2010). This plan focused on integrating violence against women into different types of health services through the extensive involvement of the Ministry of Health throughout the plan’s implementation phase.   



National Sexual Violence Policy

The Cross-government Action Plan on Sexual Violence and Abuse of the United Kingdom, articulates the government’s commitment to improve access to criminal justice, increase access to a wide range of services and prevent sexual violence and abuse.  It includes the roles and responsibilities of all the participating agencies, including the police, Crow Prosecution Service, Courts, National Offender Management Service, Local Authorities, Voluntary and Community Sector Organizations, Sexual Assault Referral Centres, Primary Care Trusts/Local Health Boards and External Forensic Service Providers and Practitioners.









Other National Policies with Violence Components

The Bolivian Sectoral Development Plan 2010-2020: Towards Universal Health includes budgeted priorities for addressing intimate partner and sexual violence.


The 2007 Integrated Plan to Confront the Feminization of AIDS and other STDs in Brazil prioritizes the reduction of sexual and domestic violence against women as one of its five objectives.


The Government of Ethiopia addresses sexual and domestic violence as well and female genital mutilation and early marriage within its nine-year National Reproductive Health Strategy (2006-2015). For example, one of the strategy’s targets is to ensure that all new law enforcement recruits are trained in the protection of women’s rights, especially those pertaining to gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation/cutting and early marriage.


The National AIDS Council of Papua New Guinea’s National Gender Policy and Plan on HIV and AIDS addresses gender-based violence as an important factor in the spread of HIV.  The plan outlines objectives and strategies to address violence against women.


The Government of Rwanda includes the management of sexual violence as one of the major areas within its National Reproductive Health Policy (Schechtman, 2008). The other priority areas include:  safe motherhood and child health, family planning, prevention and treatment of STIs including HIV, adolescent reproductive health and social changes to increase women's decision-making power.


The Government of Timor-Leste comprehensively addresses gender-based and sexual violence throughout its eleven-year National Reproductive Health Strategy (2004-2015). Strategic priorities include:  ensuring that the prevention and management of gender-based violence are part of integrated reproductive health care; and developing behaviour change communication on matters of sexual violence, coerced sex, equitable decision making and gender issues within families on sexual matters.


The Government of South Africa includes sexual violence and domestic violence in its National Policy Guidelines for Victim Empowerment.  These National Policy Guidelines provide a framework for sound inter-departmental and intersectoral collaboration and for the integration of effective institutional arrangements for a multi-pronged approach in managing victim empowerment. Of particular importance is the cross-cutting nature of the programme. In addition, the National Policy Guidelines serve as a guide for sector-specific victim empowerment policies, capacity development and a greater emphasis on the implementation of victim empowerment programmes by all relevant partners. The HIV & AIDS and STI Strategic Plan for South Africa, 2007-2011 also addresses gender-based violence as a factor that increases risk for HIV.




Sub-national Policies


The Department of Health in the Western Cape Province of South Africa has developed their own sub-national policy to address sexual violence: Survivors of Rape And Sexual Assault: Policy And Standardised Management Guidelines.  


In Canada the province of Ontario has developed their own sub-national policy to address domestic violence: A Domestic Violence Action Plan for Ontario.