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Protecting Women from Violence

Protecting women from violence — particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence — is a major public and global health concern.

Global estimates published by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about 1 in 3 (35 percent) of women globally 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 percent) 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.

Moreover, globally, as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.

protecting women from violence globally

Protecting Women from Violence

Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health.  Violence may also increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.

Men, who have a history of child maltreatment, a low education, and use alcohol harmfully, were exposed to domestic violence against their mothers, have unequal gender norms including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women, and are more likely to commit violence upon a woman.

Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence if they were abused during childhood, have a low education, were exposed to mothers being abused by a partner, and attitudes accepting violence, male privilege, and women’s subordinate status.

There’s evidence that support and empowerment counseling interventions, as well as home visitation are promising in preventing or reducing intimate partner violence and protecting women from violence.

Situations of conflict, post conflict, and displacement may intensify existing violence, like that by intimate partners, as well as and non-partner sexual violence, and might lead to new forms of violence against women.

Violence against Women

The United Nations defines violence against women as the following:

“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 behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, and psychological abuse and controlling behaviors.

Sexual violence is defined as follows:

 “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 and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women

Almost one-third (30 percent) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

The prevalence estimates of intimate partner violence range from 23.2 percent in high-income countries and 24.6 percent in the WHO Western Pacific region to 37 percent in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, and 37.7 percent in the WHO South-East Asia region.

Globally as many as 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. In addition to intimate partner violence, globally 7 percent of women report having been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner, although data for non-partner sexual violence are more limited.

Men against women mostly perpetrate intimate partner and sexual violence.

Risk Factors

Factors associated with intimate partner and sexual violence occurs at individual, family, community, and wider society levels. Some are associated with being a perpetrator of violence, some are associated with experiencing violence and some are associated with both.

Risk factors for both intimate partner and sexual violence include:

  • Lower levels of education
  • A history of exposure to child maltreatment
  • Witnessing family violence
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Harmful use of alcohol
  • Having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity
  • Attitudes that condone violence
  • Community norms that privilege or ascribe higher status to men and lower status to women
  • Low levels of women’s access to paid employment

Factors specifically associated with intimate partner violence include:

  • Past history of violence
  • Marital discord and dissatisfaction
  • Difficulties in communicating between partners
  • Male controlling behaviors towards their partners

Factors specifically associated with sexual violence perpetration include:

  • Beliefs in family honor and sexual purity
  • Ideologies of male sexual entitlement
  • Weak legal sanctions for sexual violence

Gender inequality and norms on the acceptability of violence against women are a root cause of violence against women.

Health Consequences

Intimate partner (physical, sexual and emotional) and sexual violence cause serious short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems for women. They also affect their children, and lead to high social and economic costs for women, their families and societies.

Such violence can:

  • Have fatal outcomes like homicide or suicide.
  • Lead to injuries, with 42 percent of women who experience intimate partner violence reporting an injury because of this violence.
  • Lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. A 2013 study 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. The same 2013 study showed that women who experienced intimate partner violence were 16 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage and 41 percent more likely to have a pre-term birth.

These forms of violence can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress and other anxiety disorders, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. The 2013 analysis found that women who have experienced intimate partner violence were almost twice as likely to experience depression and problem drinking.

Health effects can also include headaches, back pain, abdominal pain, 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 behavioral 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 (through, for example diarrheal disease or malnutrition).

Prevention and Response

There are a growing number of well-designed studies looking at the effectiveness of prevention and response programs for protecting women from violence. 

There’s some evidence from high-income countries that advocacy and counseling interventions to improve access to services for survivors of intimate partner violence are effective in reducing such violence.

Home visitation programs involving health worker outreach by trained nurses also show promise in protecting women from violence and reducing intimate partner violence. However, these have yet to be assessed for use in resource-poor settings.

To achieve lasting change in protecting women from violence, it’s important to enact and enforce legislation and develop and implement policies that promote gender equality by:

  • Ending discrimination against women in marriage, divorce and custody laws
  • Ending discrimination in inheritance laws and ownership of assets
  • Improving women’s access to paid employment
  • Developing and resourcing national plans and policies to address violence against women.

Taking action and generating evidence is an important tool for violence prevention.

For more help and support visit The Stop Violence Against Women website (STOPVAW), a project of The Advocates for Human Rights…a forum for information, advocacy, and change in the promotion of women’s human rights around the world.  Find research, reports, articles, facts, and statistics on violence against women throughout the world and ways of protecting women from violence.

More resources are needed to strengthen the prevention of and response to intimate partner and sexual violence, including the primary prevention…protecting women from violence by stopping it from happening in the first place.


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