1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence: UN

NEW YORK: Nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime as the pervasive criminal behaviour increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

This was stated in a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the UN agency and its partners urged governments to adopt preventive measures. According to the report, violence starts early as one in four young women (aged 15-24 years) who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by a partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties.

“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.”

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

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 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 helpline, police, health workers, teachers and other service providers during lockdowns, the full impact of the pandemic on prevalence will only be established as surveys are resumed.

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 prevalence as high as 1 in 2.

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Younger women are at the 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.

Violence in all its forms can have an impact on a woman’s health and well-being throughout the rest of her life even long after the violence may have ended. It is associated with an increased risk of injuries, depression, anxiety disorders, unplanned pregnancies, sexually-transmitted infections including HIV and many other health problems. It has impacts on society as a whole and comes with tremendous costs, impacting national budgets and overall development.

The report states that preventing violence requires addressing systemic economic and social inequalities, ensuring access to education and safe work, and changing discriminatory gender norms and institutions. Successful interventions also include strategies that ensure essential services are available and accessible to survivors, that support women’s organisations, challenge inequitable social norms, reform discriminatory laws and strengthen legal responses among others.