Violence against women is a major human rights violation and a global public health concern of pandemic proportions. This WHO report, the first of the UN Violence Against Women Inter-Agency Working Group on Estimation and Data (VAW-IAWGED), provides updated estimates for two of the most common forms of violence against women: violence by an intimate male partner and non-partner sexual violence.
The new report is the largest ever study on the prevalence of violence against women and includes data from 161 countries and areas for intimate partner violence and 137 for non-partner sexual violence. The data was obtained through a systematic and comprehensive review of available population-based prevalence data for women aged 15 years and older from the period 2000–2018.
The results presented in this report are the first available estimates for intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence in the Sustainable Development Goals reporting period 2015 -2030. The new estimates supersede all previously published WHO/UN estimates for years that fall within the same time period.
The release of these estimates is a critical milestone to enhance the availability of data globally, drive political and public awareness, inform a more comprehensive and sustained response to ending violence against women globally, and monitor progress towards achieving the SDG target 5.2 on elimination of violence against women and girls.
Key facts and messages
Violence against women is not a small problem that occurs in some pockets of society; rather, it is a persistent global public health problem of pandemic proportions.
- An estimated 736 million women -almost 1 in 3-have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both at least once in their life (30% of women aged 15 and older).
- Most of the violence against women is perpetrated by current or former husbands or intimate partners. More than 640 million women aged 15 and older have been subjected to intimate partner violence (26% of women aged 15 and older).
- The world is failing to eliminate violence against women. Despite progress in the past two decades to recognize violence against women as a serious human rights violation and public health concern, the Number of women subjected to intimate partner violence and sexual violence has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.
Partner violence against women starts early, with health impacts that can last a lifetime.
- Of those who have been in a relationship, almost 1 in 4adolescent girls aged 15–19(24%)have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or husband.This is concerning as adolescence and early adulthood is an important time that lays the foundation for healthy relationships.
- 16% of young women aged 15–24have experienced this violence recently (in the past 12 months).
- Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health. It is associated with increased risk of injuries, depression, anxiety disorders, unplanned pregnancies, sexually-transmitted infections, HIV and many other health problems, that can last even after the violence has ended.
For many women, the violence experienced is recent. Every year alarming rates of recent violence are being reported globally, and risks have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In 2018, an estimated 1 in 7women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or husband in the past 12 months(13% of women aged 15-49).
- These numbers do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.Increases in violence against women related to COVID-19 and lockdown measures are being reported to helplines, police forces and other service providers, which is a significant concern.
- A true understanding of the increase in prevalence will only be obtained through population-based surveys, when they are safely resumed.
While intimate partner violence remains the most prevalent form of violence against women, millions of women are sexually-assaulted by someone other than their husband or partner.
- Globally, 6% of women report they have been subjected to sexual violence from someone other than their husband or intimate partner at least once in their life.
- The true prevalence of non-partner sexual violence is likely to be much higher, considering that this form of violence is particularly stigmatized globally and many women fear blame or other repercussions if they disclose it. This figure also largely captures only rape or attempted rape and not the myriad of other forms of sexual violence that women and girls are known to experience.
Inequities are a leading risk factor for violence against women. Globally, violence against women disproportionately affects low-and lower-middle-income countries and regions:
- 37% of women aged 15-49living in the countries classified by the SDGs as ‘Least Developed’ have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their life.
- Women living in the three subregions of Oceania(51% of women in Melanesia, 42% of women inMicronesia, and 39% of women in Polynesia), inSub Saharan Africa(35%)and in Southern Asia(33%)also had very high prevalence rates of lifetime intimate partner violence among women aged 15-49 years.
The disparities between high-income and low-and middle-income countries and regions are especially stark for recent/current violence (i.e. In the past year). Women in these settings often have limited access to the economic and social support needed to leave abusive relationships, as well as to services.
- 22% of women living in the ‘Least Developed Countries”have been subjected to intimate partner violence in the past 12 months–substantially higher than the world average (of 13%).
- As with lifetime prevalence, the sub-regions of Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand), Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia had the highest prevalence over the past 12 months, affecting 30% of women in Melanesia; 22% of women in Micronesia; and 19% of women in Polynesia; 20% inSub-Saharan Africa and 19% in Southern Asia.
- The lowest rates of lifetime physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence among ever-partnered women aged 15-49were in the 4subregions of Europe (16–23%), and also in Central Asia (18%), Eastern Asia (20%) and South-Eastern Asia (21%).
- The lowest estimated rates of intimate partner violence in past 12 months were in Australia and New Zealand (4%), North America (6%), the subregions of Europe (4–7%) –regions comprising mostly high-income countries.
Since 2013, countries have made concrete investments in preventing and responding to violence against women and in data collection.
i) More data is available than ever before.
- As of 2018 at least 158 countries and 3 areas have prevalence data for intimate partner violence and 135 countries and 2 areas for non-partner sexual violence. However not all of these data use gold standard measures and some of the data may be old. There are still some geographical gaps in data availability.
- There is still room for improvement, particularly when it comes to the measurement of non-partner sexual violence.The data on non-partner sexual violence remains limited and of poor quality and further methodological work is required to strengthen the measures used to capture sexual violence.
- Similarly with psychological intimate partner violence which has devastating consequences for women and their children, and we hope to capture in future iterations.
ii) Violence against women is preventable.
- We know more than ever before about what works to prevent violence against women and girls. Promising prevention programmes exist, particularly for intimate partner violence, and need to be tested more widely and scaled up when appropriate.
- Interventions for prevention need to include action at multiple levels, for example: challenge social norms that support masculinities based on power and control over women and that condone violence against women; reform discriminatory family/divorce laws; strengthen women’s economic rights; eliminate gender inequalities in access to formal wage employment and secondary education; and, at an individual level, strategies that address attitudes that justify violence against women and reinforce gender-stereotypical roles within the family; reduce exposure to violence in childhood; and address substance abuse.
- Schools need to be safe spaces for girls; they also have an important role to play in promoting gender equality and mutually respectful relationships, challenging gender stereotypes and attitudes that condone violence, including against women and girls, among children and adolescents of all genders.
- The multiagency-endorsed RESPECT women: a framework for prevention of violence against women provides policy-makers with a framework and process for designing prevention programmes, identifying entry points and evidence-based strategies, and monitoring progress.
iii) The health sector has a key role to play in a multi-sectoral response
- The health sector has a key role to play in early identification and providing care and support to women affected by violence. Apart from the many health effects of violence, most women come into contact with the health sector at some point in their lives and health providers are among those women are more likely to trust with a disclosure.
- Access to survivor-centred, high quality care, including comprehensive post-rape care, and services for survivors of violence is essential. Providers should be trained in identification through non-judgmental clinical-based enquiry (for intimate partner violence); first-line psychological/emotional support; treatment and care for underlying conditions; and short-and long-term mental health support.
- Health care services should be able to link up women with other services they may need, including police/legal, social services, shelter and other supports.
Call to action
WHO and partners are calling for a renewed commitment to eliminate violence against women by 2030. WHO calls for increased and strong political will and leadership, sound gender-transformative/inclusive policies and laws that enhance gender equality, a strengthened health system response and targeted investment in sustainable and effective violence against women prevention strategies at global, regional, national and local levels.There is hope, but only if we act, together now.
Governments should take leadership and show commitment to addressing violence against women by:
- Raising their voices, alongside women’s organizations to increase awareness, and reduce stigma, taboo and misconceptions. Strengthening health, judicial and other relevant systems to better respond to and prevent violence against women.
- Advocating for a joined-up multi-sectoral response to violence against women.
- Nationalizing and localizing violence against women prevention programmes and strategies.
- Achieving gender equality and addressing all forms of discrimination/exclusion in every country and region through sustained investment.
- Investing in high quality surveys on violence against women and improving measurement of the different forms of violence experienced by women, including those that are most marginalized, across the life course to enhance evidence and knowledge and to monitor progress.
Supporting advocacy messages and recommendations.
- Ending violence against women is possible. Timely and reliable estimates on violence against women continue to improve our understanding of the prevalence and extent of the problem and will help track progress. Importantly, we also have growing evidence on what works to prevent violence against women and girls.
- Government and donors must invest everywhere, and particularly in regions and countries with a high burden of violence against women, to accelerate progress and realize gender equality in every country and region. We must ensure that COVID-19 reconstruction efforts keep women at the centre and strengthen their access to safe and paid employment and rights.
- As we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries must begin to reimagine a new world where no women and girl is denied her basic human rights and where every woman and girl can live a life free of violence.
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