The World Health Organization reports one in three women globally, around 736 million, suffer physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner. The study, the largest ever conducted on the prevalence of violence against women, is based on data from 2000 to 2018.
Violence often begins at an early age. The study finds one in four young women aged 15 to 24 are violently abused by an intimate partner. WHO officials said this is of particular concern as it is during this formative age that healthy relationships are made.
Short- and long-term impacts
The report said intimate partner violence is by far the most prevalent form of violence against women worldwide. It said abusive treatment can have both short- and long-term impacts on women’s physical and mental well-being. Claudia Garcia-Moreno is Unit Head in WHO’s Department of Sexual Reproductive Health and an author of the report.
She told VOA problems include unwanted pregnancies and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections. She said many women suffer from mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety which can lead to substance abuse and other risky behavior.
“It can lead to death as well both, in the form of homicide," Garcia-Moreno said. "We know that about 38% — and some studies report even higher of the murders of women are committed by intimate partners. And we also see a strong association with suicide and suicide attempts.”
Abuse higher in poorest countries
Data show violence disproportionately affects women living in low-and lower-middle-income countries. An estimated 37% of women in the poorest countries are found to have been physically or sexually abused by their intimate partners.
Highest prevalence rates are in the regions of Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The lowest rates are in Europe, and in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Asia.
Garcia-Moreno said the prevalence of violence in intimate relationships in lower socio-economic regions is driven by a whole range of factors.
“We know that there is a strong correlation with economic development and strong, stringent, rigid gender norms," Garcia-Moreno said. "Discrimination against women, laws that maybe are unsupportive of women in terms of divorce or child custody or inheritance rights.”
Women's movements successful
Garcia-Moreno said countries that have organized women’s movements are most successful in tackling this problem. Reducing the stigma around violence by intimate partners, she said is critical in addressing this issue.
Authors of the study report that changing discriminatory gender norms and institutions, addressing economic and social inequalities, and ensuring access to education and safe work are other measures that can help prevent violence.