On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on violence against women.
Violence against women: Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
Intimate partner violence: Refers to behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.
Sexual violence: Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object.
Global estimates by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
Most of this violence is intimate partner violence.
Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
The prevalence estimates range from
- 23.2% in high-income countries and 24.6% in the Western Pacific region to
- 37% in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, and 37.7% in the South-East Asia region.
Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.
Risk factors for both intimate partner and sexual violence include:
- lower levels of education (perpetration of sexual violence and experience of sexual violence);
- exposure to child maltreatment (perpetration and experience);
- witnessing family violence (perpetration and experience);
- antisocial personality disorder (perpetration);
- harmful use of alcohol (perpetration and experience);
- having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity (perpetration); and
- attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality (perpetration and experience).
Factors specifically associated with intimate partner violence include:
- past history of violence;
- marital discord and dissatisfaction;
- difficulties in communicating between partners.
Factors specifically associated with sexual violence perpetration include:
- beliefs in family honour and sexual purity
- ideologies of male sexual entitlement and
- weak legal sanctions for sexual violence.
- Violence against women can have fatal outcomes like homicide or suicide.
- It can lead to injuries, with 42% of women who experience intimate partner violence reporting an injury as a consequence of this violence.
- Intimate partner violence and sexual violence can lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynaecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV– A 2013 analysis found that women who had been physically or sexually abused were 1.5 times more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection and, in some regions, HIV, compared to women who had not experienced partner violence. They are also twice as likely to have an abortion.
- Intimate partner violence in pregnancy also increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery and low birth weight babies.
- These forms of violence can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress and other anxiety disorders, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. The same study found that women who have experienced intimate partner violence were almost twice as likely to experience depression and problem drinking. The rate was even higher for women who had experienced non partner sexual violence.
- Health effects can also include headaches, back pain, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, limited mobility and poor overall health.
- Sexual violence, particularly during childhood, can lead to increased smoking, drug and alcohol misuse, and risky sexual behaviours in later life. It is also associated with perpetration of violence (for males) and being a victim of violence (for females).
Impact on children
- Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances. These can also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life.
- Intimate partner violence has also been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity (e.g. diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition).
There is evidence from high-income settings that school-based programmes may be effective in preventing relationship violence (or dating violence) among young people.
In low-income settings, strategies to increase women’s economic and social empowerment, such as microfinance combined with gender equality training and community-based initiatives that address gender inequality and relationship skills, have shown some effectiveness in reducing intimate partner violence.
Situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, and present additional forms of violence against women.
To bring about lasting change, it is important to enact legislation and develop policies that:
- address discrimination against women;
- promote gender equality;
- support women; and
- help to move towards more peaceful cultural norms.
Link to the WHO fact sheet on Violence against women:
Link to WHO report ‘Global and regional estimates of violence against women..’ (Full report, English) [PDF]:
Link to Executive summary of the above report (English) [PDF]:
Link to the Executive summary of the report in Arabic [PDF]:
Link to the Executive Summary of the report in Chinese [PDF]:
Link to the Executive Summary of the report in French [PDF]:
Link to the Executive Summary of the report in Russian [PDF]:
Link to the Executive Summary of the report in Spanish [PDF]:
Link to WHO manual ‘Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women..’ (English) [PDF]:
Link to the above manual in French [PDF]:
Link to the above manual in Portuguese [PDF]:
Link to the above manual in Spanish [PDF]:
Link to WHO infographic on violence against women (English) [PDF]:
Links to WHO infographics on violence against women (English) [JPEG]: