Violence against women


Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights worldwide

Key facts:

o          Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – are major public health problems and violations of women’s human rights.


o          Recent global prevalence figures indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

o          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.

o          Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.

o          Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.

o          Factors associated with increased risk of perpetration of violence include low education, child maltreatment or exposure to violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.

o          Factors associated with increased risk of experiencing intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, exposure to violence between parents, abuse during childhood, attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.

o          There is evidence from high-income settings that school-based programs may be effective in preventing relationship violence (or dating violence) among young people.

o          In low-income settings, primary prevention strategies, such as microfinance combined with gender equality training and community-based initiatives that address gender inequality and relationship skills, hold promise.

o          Situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, and present additional forms of violence against women.

What are the causes

Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation is the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia. In its most severe form, a woman or girl has all of her genitalia removed and then stitched together, leaving a small opening for intercourse and menstruation. It is practiced in 28 African countries on the pretext of cultural tradition or hygiene. An estimated 135 million girls have undergone FGM with dire consequences ranging from infection (including HIV) to sterility, in addition to the devastating psychological effects. Though all the governments of the countries in which FGM is practiced have legislation making it illegal, the complete lack of enforcement and prosecution of the perpetrators means FGM continues to thrive.

Many of the misconceptions surrounding violence again women center on its causes. There are a number of myths that exist, such as:

Men can’t control their anger or sexual urges; alcohol causes men to be violent; women could leave violent partners if they wanted to; and

Men experience equal, if not greater, levels of violence perpetrated by their partners or former partners., Research has shown that the significant drivers of violence against women include:

The unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women; and

An adherence to rigidly defined gender roles and identities i.e., what it means to be masculine and feminine.

Attitudes that condone or tolerate violence are recognized as playing a central role in shaping the way individuals, organizations and communities respond to violence. VicHealth has summarized five key categories of violence supportive attitudes that arise from research. These include attitudes that:

Justify violence against women, based on the notion that it is legitimate for a man to use violence against a woman;, excuse violence by attributing it to external factors (such as stress) or proposing that men cannot be held fully responsible for violent behavior (for example, because of anger or sexual urges);, trivialize the impact of violence, based on the view that the impacts of violence are not serious or are not sufficiently serious to warrant action by women themselves, the community or public agencies;

Minimize violence by denying its seriousness, denying that it occurs or denying that certain behaviors are indeed violence at all; and

Shift blame for the violence from the perpetrator to the victim or hold women at least partially responsible for their victimization or for preventing victimization., VicHealth has a number of useful publications and research that discuss current attitudes around violence against women.

The United Nations General Assembly defines “violence against women” as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely 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.” The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women noted that this violence could be perpetrated by assailants of gender, family members and even the “State” itself.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. It can include physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse, and it cuts across boundaries of age, race, culture, wealth and geography. It takes place in the home, on the streets, in schools, the workplace, in farm fields, refugee camps, during conflicts and crises. It has many manifestations – from the most universally prevalent forms of domestic and sexual violence, to harmful practices, abuse during pregnancy,

Globally, up to six out of every ten WOMEN experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. A World Health Organization study of 24,000 women in 10 countries found that the prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence by a partner varied from 15 percent in urban Japan to 71 percent in rural Ethiopia, with most areas being in the 30–60 percent range.

Violence against women and girls has far-reaching consequences, harming families and communities. For women and girls 16–44 years old, violence is a major cause of death and disability. In 1994, a World Bank study on ten selected risk factors facing girls and women in this age group, found rape and domestic violence more dangerous than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria.

Studies also reveal increasing links between violence against women and HIV and AIDS. 1,366 South African women showed that women who were beaten by their partners were 48 percent more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not.

Marital rape is a prosecutor offence in at least 104 States, and 90 countries have laws on sexual harassment. However, in too many countries gaps remain. In 102 countries there are no specific legal provisions against domestic violence, and marital rape is not a prosecutor offence in at least 53 nations.

History of violence against women

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) states that “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”

In the 1870s, courts in the United States stopped recognizing the common-law principle that a husband had the right to “physically chastise an errant wife”. In the UK the traditional right of a husband to inflict moderate corporal punishment on his wife in ORDER to keep her “within the bounds of duty” was removed in 1891.

Impact on society

The World Health Organization reports that violence against women puts an undue burden on health care services with women who have suffered violence being more likely to need health services and at higher cost, compared to women who have not suffered violence. Several studies have shown a link between poor treatment of women and international violence. These studies show that one of the best predictors of international violence is the maltreatment of women in the society.

Types of violence, rape

Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent.

Internationally, the incidence of rapes recorded by the police during 2008 varied between 0.1 in Egypt per 100,000 people and 91.6 per 100,000 people in Lesotho with 4.9 per 100,000 people in Lithuania as the median. According to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most underreported violent crime. The rate of reporting, prosecution and convictions for rape varies considerably in different jurisdictions. Rape by strangers is usually less common than rape by persons the victim knows.

For further information, WHO and Unicef websites, Women’s Human Rights Associations, email to [email protected], send only text messages to WhatsApp 002207774469 from 3 to 6PM.

Dr Hassan Azadeh, senior lecturer at the University of The Gambia in obstetrics & gynaecology.