One in three women worldwide have been subject to sexual or physical violence during their lifetime, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Over the past decade, violence against women has been “endemic in every country and culture,” said UN health agency.
The latest available data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners revealed that violence against women remains “devastatingly pervasive and starts alarmingly young”.
Some 736 million women – that translates to a third of all women – have been subjected to physical or sexual violence across their lifetimes.
“Violence against women is…causing harm to millions of women and their families and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine.”
Moreover, the violence starts early, with a quarter of 15 to 24-year-olds in a relationship having experienced violence by an intimate partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties.
“It’s deeply disturbing that this pervasive violence by men against women not only persists unchanged but is at its worst for young women aged 15-24 who may also be young mothers,” said UN Women chief Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
While intimate partner violence is the most prevalent, affecting around 641 million women globally, six percent of women report being sexually assaulted by someone other than their husband or partner.
And given the high levels of stigma and under-reporting of sexual abuse, the true figure is likely to be significantly higher.
“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,” Tedros said.
Based on data from 2000 to 2018, the report represents the largest-ever study on the prevalence of violence against women, which Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out was rising even “before the pandemic stay-at-home orders.”
WHO warned that COVID has further increased women’s exposure to violence because of measures such as lockdowns and disruptions to vital support services.
“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,” the head of UN Women said.
Though many countries have seen more intimate partner violence reported to helplines, police and other service providers during lockdowns, the report notes that the pandemic’s full impact will only be established with further data collection.
“Every government should be taking strong, proactive steps to address this, and involving women in doing so,” Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka underscored.