International Women's Day: Breaking down the barriers to sexual violence care

Today marks International Women’s Day, 8 March – an aspirational day to celebrate the achievements of remarkable women.

Yet today many women remain tragically vulnerable in their own homes and communities.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly one in three women worldwide has experienced some form of sexual violence, though this may be an underestimation of the real situation on the ground.

In 2014, our medical teams treated over 11, 000 survivors of sexual violence in 91 projects in 29 countries – 90% of these were women and children.

TESTIMONIES – below please find the voices of two victims of sexual violence our field projects in Zimbabwe and Kenya, and two of MSF’s counsellors dealing daily with survivor trauma.

Their hope - and ours - is that you can bear witness to their suffering as an important step in breaking down the barriers to addressing sexual violence.


Warning: stories below contain information about sexual assault and/or violence

What is MSF’s approach to treating sexual violence?

As with all our medical projects, MSF treats sexual violence as a medical emergency – where the survivor’s mental and health needs are treated as soon as possible after the event, and their recovery and return to daily life is supported.

READ MORE about MSF’s overall response to sexual violence

Read MSF's new report from Papua New Guinea 'Return to Abuser' which reveals shocking levels of family and sexual violence.

In our discussions with countless survivors about why they don’t seek medical care, one of the many factors is the huge fear of dealing with the police, and unresponsive or inhumane legal systems.

MSF therefore uses a comprehensive ‘one-stop’ approach meant to break all barriers that may deter survivors from seeking medical help, and increase their chances of a successful legal resolution.

MSF has projects specifically focussed on treating sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Papua New Guinea (PNG), Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa.  


*All survivor’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.

1. Survivor:  “My mother did not believe me”

17-year old Wangai* suffered a prolonged sexual assault in her neighbourhood. She was cared for at MSF’s clinic in Mathare, Nairobi.

2. Survivor: “I feel ashamed”

A 13-year old girl from Tari, Papua New Guinea comes to MSF’s clinic for the first time with her mother.

3. MSF Counsellor: “Each victim has a story”

Penluther Mundida, an MSF Nurse Counsellor in Mbare, Zimbabwe, reminds us it is easy to forget the individual stories when sexual violence seems so ubiquitous.

4. MSF Counsellor: “The trauma is intense”

Pascale Pynson, a psychologist working in MSF’s Lavender House Clinic in Mathare Slum in Nairobi, sees a considerable number of young children in the clinic

Contact us
Angela Makamure Press Officer, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa
Angela Makamure Press Officer, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa
About Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa

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