The United Nations 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." (1)
Intimate partner violence refers to behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behaviors.
Sexual violence is "any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, another body part, or object."
- Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women's human rights.
- Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
- Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
- Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
- Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.
- Men are more likely to perpetrate violence if they have low education, a history of child maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence against their mothers, harmful use of alcohol, unequal gender norms including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women.
- Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence if they have low education, exposure to mothers being abused by a partner, abuse during childhood, and attitudes accepting violence, male privilege, and women’s subordinate status.
- There is evidence that advocacy and empowerment counseling interventions, as well as home visitation, are promising in preventing or reducing intimate partner violence against women.
- Situations of conflict, post-conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, as well as and non-partner sexual violence, and may also lead to new forms of violence against women.
Violence against women is a human rights violation, social justice and public health problem that touches every level of society in every part of the world. From young girls to older women, one out of every three is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. WHO studies show that intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women worldwide.
Violence against women poses serious consequences to women's health and well-being. Studies have linked violence against women and girls to a host of physical and mental health problems. Certain high-risk behaviors are all significantly more frequent among victims of intimate partner and sexual violence.
The health sector can play a vital role in responding to and preventing violence against women. This role includes helping to identify abuse early, providing victims with treatment, and referring women to appropriate and informed care. The health sector must also work to prevent violence from ever taking place. And as the public health approach to prevention clearly stipulates, the first step in preventing violence is to understand it and the health sector has a key role in helping us to measure and understand violence against women.
PAHO/WHO has a long history of working to improve prevention and response to violence against women and violence against children.
Below are four priority areas for violence prevention in the region:
- Improving the scope, quality, dissemination, and use of data on violence against women and violence against children for evidence-based policy and programming.
- Strengthening capacity for preventing violence against women and children.
- Improving the health sector response to violence against women and violence against children.
- Supporting the development and revision of national policies and plans on violence prevention and response including specific policies and plans for addressing violence against women.