Up to 70% of women experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
The WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women indicated that intimate partner violence is widespread across many societies. The study showed that rates of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner ranged from 15% in Japan, to 70% in Ethiopia and Peru, with most sites reporting rates of between 29 and 62%. The WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women can be downloaded here:
Violence against women is predictable and preventable.
Levels of violence against women are not the same in all places and at all times. By identifying the social, cultural, legal and economic factors that influence such violence, it is possible to predict its occurrence and to understand how to prevent it. School-based programmes to prevent dating violence; reducing the harmful use of alcohol; changing social and cultural norms through education and awareness raising, and intervening with maltreated children to avert their later involvement in violence can reduce violence against women. For further information on effective prevention strategies, visit:
Violence against women can damage the health and well-being of women.
Mental health consequences of intimate partner and sexual violence include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, suicide attempts, and substance abuse. Physical health consequences include injuries, chronic pain syndromes, gastrointestinal disorders, and disabilities. Violence can lead to unintended pregnancies, gynecological problems, and induced abortions. Women who suffer intimate partner violence also have poorer overall health in the long term than women who are not affected by such violence.
Violence against women can damage the health and well-being of children.
Witnessing intimate partner violence can damage the normal development of children in the family. Studies have shown that some children exposed to violence between parents have more social, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and general health problems than children from families where there was no violence between partners.
Violence against women increases the likelihood of being infected with HIV.
Studies from India, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, the United States of America and other countries show that violence against women increases the risk of HIV infection. A recent study of young women in South Africa showed that HIV negative women who had experienced intimate partner violence or high levels of gender inequality in their relationships with men were 51% more likely to acquire HIV over the next two years. To support programme managers in dealing with violence against women and HIV/AIDS, WHO has published Addressing violence against women in the context of HIV/AIDS: What works?, which can be downloaded here:
Violence against women is an obstacle to achieving several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The 2010 MDG review showed that progress in achieving MDG 4 on child mortality and MDG 5 on maternal mortality is very slow. Both are held back by violence against women. It is estimated that one in four women worldwide is physically or sexually abused during pregnancy, usually by her partner. Violence against pregnant women is associated with a risk of miscarriage, premature labour and fetal distress, and may be related to low birth weight. Violence against women is also a cause of maternal death. Efforts to reduce maternal, infant and child mortality should include measures to reduce intimate partner and sexual violence against women.
Violence against women seriously affects economic development.
Intimate partner violence has a substantial economic impact. In the United States of America, for example, the estimated costs of intimate partner violence amount to US$ 5.8 billion annually. These include direct costs for medical services (approximately two thirds of the total costs), and indirect costs such as lost productivity.
Men who were victims of child maltreatment are three to four times more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence.
Studies suggest that exposure to violence during childhood increases the likelihood of men perpetrating violence against intimate partners by 3 to 4-fold, compared to men who are not exposed to violence as children.
The harmful use of alcohol by men increases the likelihood of intimate partner violence.
Several studies from low- and middle-income countries show that men who misuse alcohol are 1.6 to 4.8 times more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence than men who do not misuse alcohol.
Sexual violence is widespread in settings of conflict, post-conflict and displacement.
In armed conflicts, the breakdown of social support structures, families, and communities, and the disruption of services leave women and children vulnerable to sexual violence, including rape by combatants and intimate partners, and sexual exploitation by humanitarian actors. Women may submit to sexual abuse to obtain food and other basic life necessities. Rape is used to brutalize and humiliate civilians (including men) as a tactic of war, and at times for ethnic cleansing.
Programmes that increase women’s access to microcredit and finance and train people in healthy relationship and negotiation skills can prevent violence against women.
A programme called Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equity (IMAGE) in South Africa shows great promise. IMAGE targets women living in the poorest households in rural areas, and combines financial services with skills-building sessions for women and men on HIV prevention, gender norms, cultural beliefs, communication and intimate partner violence. Two years after completing the programme, women participants reported 55% fewer acts of violence by their intimate partners. For further information on how to prevent intimate partner and sexual violence, see:
School-based programmes to prevent dating violence can prevent violence against women.
Safe Dates is a school and community initiative that targets 13-15 year-old girls and boys in the United States of America. The programme addresses gender norms and equality early in life, before stereotypes develop. It includes a 10-session educational curriculum, training for providers of support services, and a theatre production. An evaluation found that participants reported less psychological abuse and sexual and physical violence against their current dating partner one month after the programme ended and four years later.
Engaging men and boys in preventing violence against women and promoting gender equality can have positive effects.
Research shows that the root causes of violence against women include harmful masculine norms and the acceptance of violence as a social norm. Surveys show that men and boys with more rigid views about masculinity are more likely to report having used violence against their partners. Therefore, working with men and boys on gender equality is necessary to reduce violence against women. A number of interventions that promote gender equality with men and boys show promise.
WHO provides guidance on how to implement evidence-based programmes for the prevention of intimate partner and sexual violence against women.
WHO and other partners have developed a manual – Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women: taking action and generating evidence – which summarizes the existing evidence on risks and programmes aimed at preventing violence against women
WHO has developed recommendations to support health workers to address the consequences of sexual violence.
To build health workers’ capacity to support victims of sexual assault, WHO and other partners have developed an online e-learning course for health care providers on Clinical management of rape and Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence. This course aims to improve health services for victims of sexual violence by providing health care workers with the knowledge and skills needed for the care of victims of sexual violence.
WHO supports research on understanding and preventing sexual violence.
Violence against women has been identified as a major public health and human rights problem, but a lack of reliable data on the causes, magnitude and consequences of the problem slows down the search for solutions. To collect such data, WHO initiated the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women. WHO also helps coordinate the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, a network of researchers, policy makers, activists and donors committed to understanding and preventing sexual violence.