The World Health Organization said Tuesday that 1 in 3 women — a number that has persisted over the past decade — experience violence in their lifetime.
Violence including physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner has affected around 736 million women globally, according to a WHO statement.
Intimate partner violence was the most prevalent, affecting around 641 million women, data showed. Socio-economic inequities were also a leading risk factor with violence disproportionately affecting low- and lower-middle-income countries. An estimated 37% of women living in the poorest countries reported experiencing violence, with some figures as high as half.Young people were among the most at risk, with 1 in 4 who have been in a relationship having experienced violence by an intimate partner by their mid-20s, the WHO said.
The data came from the largest ever study of the prevalence of violence against women, which WHO conducted on behalf of a special working group of the United Nations. The report is based on data from 2000 to 2018, updateing previous estimates released in 2013.
While the report doesn’t reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in 2020, WHO and partners warn that lockdowns and disruptions to vital support services have made violence against women worse.
“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,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “But unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it 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.”
Many countries have seen increased reporting of intimate partner violence to helplines, police, health workers, teachers and other service providers during the pandemic, but the full impact will only be established once surveys are resumed, the report noted.
The WHO recommended addressing systemic economic and social inequalities, ensuring access to essential services, and “changing discriminatory gender norms and institutions,” to prevent violence.
“To address violence against women, there’s an urgent need to reduce stigma around this issue, train health professionals to interview survivors with compassion, and dismantle the foundations of gender inequality,” Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, who leads WHO’s work on violence against women, said in a statement. “Interventions with adolescents and young people to foster gender equality and gender-equitable attitudes are also vital.”