One in 3 women – about 736 million individuals – are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner in their lifetimes, a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.
This violence starts early – 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, according to new data released by WHO and partners at a virtual media conference on Tuesday.
The 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.
The estimates presented in the report are based on data from 161 countries and areas for intimate partner violence and 137 for non-partner sexual violence, obtained through a comprehensive review of all available prevalence data from studies conducted between 2000 and 2018.
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.
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 prepared 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.
Violence disproportionately affects women living in low- and lower-middle-income countries. 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% to 51%.The lowest rates are found in Europe (16%-23%), Central Asia (18%), Eastern Asia (20%) and South-Eastern Asia (21%).
Younger women are at highest risk for recent violence. Among those who have been in a relationship, the highest rates (16%) of intimate partner violence in the past 12 months occurred among young women aged between 15 and 24.
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. The prevalence estimates of lifetime for physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence among ever married/partnered women aged 15-49 years was at least 35% in India, according to the report.
According to experts at International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) Mumbai, the findings reflect what data have shown in National Family Health Survey-5. According to NFHS-5, over 30% women suffered physical and sexual violence by their spouses in five of the 22 surveyed states and Union Territories, namely Karnataka, Assam, Mizoram, Telangana and Bihar.
WHO and partners warned 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. Many countries have seen increased reporting of intimate partner violence to helplines, police, health workers, teachers, and other service providers during lockdowns, and the full impact of the pandemic on prevalence will only be established as surveys are resumed, the report has said.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said unlike Covid-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. It can only be fought with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by 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, he said.
“It’s deeply disturbing that this pervasive violence by men against women not only persists unchanged, but is at its worst for young women aged 15-24 who may also be young mothers. And that was the situation before the pandemic stay-at home orders. We know that the multiple impacts of COVID-19 have triggered a “shadow pandemic” of increased reported violence of all kinds against women and girls,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said.