The WHO Country Office in Poland, in collaboration with national partners, has introduced Polish-language guidance aimed at bolstering the national health system’s capacity to address violence against women and girls in emergency situations. According to WHO data, women and girls are at a higher risk of experiencing various forms of violence, including sexual and intimate partner violence, during conflicts, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
Since the onset of the Ukraine crisis in February 2022, approximately 8.5 million refugees have sought refuge in neighboring countries and beyond. Poland has exhibited unparalleled support for these displaced populations, particularly women and children in need of protection and safety, by granting temporary protection to 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees thus far.
However, the response to the health needs of those affected has placed significant strain on host countries like Poland, with addressing violence being a particular concern. Prior to the conflict, rates of violence against women and girls were already high in Ukraine. In 2018, WHO conducted a comprehensive survey on violence prevalence in Ukraine, revealing that nearly 1 in 5 women aged 15–49 (18%) had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, with 9% reporting an incident within the previous 12 months.
WHO recognizes intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence as the two most common forms of violence against women, with a prevalence rate of 26% across the WHO European Region for women aged 15–49. Displaced women, refugees, and those living in conflict-affected areas face an even greater risk.
Importantly, women subjected to violence are more likely to seek healthcare services, even if they do not explicitly disclose violence as the reason for seeking care.
Dr. Paloma Cuchί, WHO Representative in Poland, emphasizes the unique role of health services in identifying and providing appropriate care to women affected by violence. These services also play a crucial role in connecting survivors to additional support services, including legal assistance, while contributing to the prevention of future harm. Dr. Cuchί underscores the complex nature of violence, particularly in emergency contexts, and highlights the importance of understanding and addressing the multiple dimensions of health and well-being associated with it.
To support the Polish health system and equip frontline workers with the necessary tools and guidance to deliver high-quality healthcare to survivors of violence, WHO has collaborated with leading academics from the University of Warsaw and the University of Zielona Góra. Their joint efforts have involved reviewing and translating four key sets of WHO guidelines into Polish:
- “Caring for women subjected to violence: a WHO training curriculum for healthcare providers, revised edition, 2021”: These guidelines include protocols for managing cases of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. They also provide protocols for health managers and administrators to strengthen health systems’ response to violence against women and girls.
Leading health and academic experts conducted a comprehensive technical review of the translation of these guidelines into Polish. This ensures their relevance to health workers who may encounter victims of sexual violence within the framework of Polish law.
Professor Zbigniew Izdebski, a sexologist at the University of Warsaw and the University of Zielona Góra, emphasizes that WHO recommends incorporating training on responding to violence against women into the initial education of healthcare professionals. Therefore, universities play a crucial role in ensuring that health professionals possess the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively respond to survivors.
Professor Dr. Krzysztof Czajkowski, a national consultant in obstetrics and gynecology, eagerly anticipates increased training opportunities for health workers in Poland. He highlights the importance of developing skills in identifying signs of violence, providing immediate support, conducting medical examinations, delivering medical care to survivors, and making appropriate referrals when necessary.
In launching this initiative, WHO aims to strengthen the capacity of the Polish health system to effectively respond to violence against women and girls in emergency situations. By ensuring that frontline healthcare workers are equipped with the right tools and guidance, survivors will receive the necessary care and support, ultimately contributing to their well-being and recovery.