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1 in 3 women globally experience violence, says WHO

Photo courtesy of WHO

A new report released by WHO and its partners shows that violence against women remains devastatingly pervasive and starts alarmingly young.

1 in 3 women (around 736 million) across their lifetime is subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner – a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade. This violence starts early with 1 in 4 young women, aged 15-24 years, who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by an intimate partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties.

Intimate partner violence is by far the most prevalent form of violence against women globally (affecting around 641 million). However, 6% of women globally report being sexually assaulted by someone other than their husband or partner. Given the high levels of stigma and under-reporting of sexual abuse, the true figure is likely to be significantly higher.

Inequities are a leading risk factor for violence against women. An estimated 37% of women living in the poorest countries have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their life, with some of these countries having a prevalence as high as 1 in 2. The regions of Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest prevalence rates of intimate partner violence among women aged 15-49, ranging from 33% - 51%. The lowest rates are found in Europe (16–23%), Central Asia (18%), Eastern Asia (20%) and South-Eastern Asia (21%).

This report presents data from the largest ever study of the prevalence of violence against women, conducted by WHO on behalf of a special working group of the United Nations. Based on data from 2000 to 2018, it updates previous estimates released in 2013. While the numbers reveal already alarmingly high rates of violence against women and girls, they do not reflect the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO and partners warn that the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased women’s exposure to violence, as a result of measures such as lockdowns and disruptions to vital support services.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka shared that the multiple impacts of COVID-19 have triggered a “shadow pandemic” of increased reported violence of all kinds against women and girls, and is at its worst for young women aged 15-24 who may also be young mothers.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General shared that violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. There is a need for governments, communities and individuals to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships.

About the report:

The report, Global, regional and national estimates for intimate partner violence against women and global and regional estimates for non-partner sexual violence against women was developed by WHO and the UNDP-UNFPA-UNICEF-WHO-World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP) for the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women Estimation and Data. The Working Group includes representatives from WHO, UN Women, UNICEF, UNFPA, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) to strengthen the measurement and monitoring and reporting of violence against women, including for the purposes of monitoring the related indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). National data collection on intimate partner violence has increased significantly since the previous 2010 estimates, although challenges remain with data quality and availability. Sexual violence, in particular, remains one of the most taboo and stigmatizing forms and hence continues to be vastly underreported. Financial support for the analysis and report was provided by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.


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