A new report reveals the terrifying extent of violence against women around the globe, which has only gotten worse with the pandemic.
New data from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that one in three women experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, sexual violence from a non-partner, or both during their lifetime, a number that has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Younger women were at the highest risk of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, and quarter of young women (ages 15-24) who have been in a relationship will have experienced violence from a partner by their mid-twenties, it said in a report.
The UN agency called on political leadership to tackle violence against women through prevention mechanisms and support services, including survivor-centred health systems; targeted education interventions, investment in evidence-based prevention strategies, and transformative policies including equal pay and gender equality laws.
“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,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“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.”
The lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence is highest at 37 percent among the “Least Developed Countries", which include the regions of Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Even in areas with the lowest rates, the numbers are devastatingly high: Central Asia (18 percent); Eastern Asia (20 percent), South-Eastern Asia (21 percent); and Europe (16 to 23 percent), over a lifetime.
Globally, 6 percent of women report sexual assault from a person other than their husband or partner, but the actual number is likely to be much higher due to the stigma associated with sexual abuse and under-reporting, the report says.
Less than 40 percent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort, according to the UN, with most women turning to family and friends for support.
The report examined intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, which are the most common forms of violence against women, though women around the globe also endure other forms of violence including physical violence by relatives and employers; femicide; and human trafficking.
About 49 percent of human trafficking victims are women, and with the inclusion of young girls, this figure rises to 72 percent.
The “shadow pandemic”
The report, which is based on data between 2000 and 2018, is the largest study on violence against women conducted by the WHO.
Since the data only goes up to 2018, it does not include data from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen a rise and intensification of domestic violence worldwide.
Calls to helplines have increased fivefold in some countries as rates of reported intimate partner violence increased the UN said this week.
Violence has significant mental and physical effects on women, even long after the act may have ended. Women experience depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders; various physical injuries and illnesses including higher rates of sexually transmitted infections like HIV. And the impact reverberates in society as a whole.
The UN defines violence against women as "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."
“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,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“Every government should be taking strong, proactive steps to address this, and involving women in doing so”.