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Fact sheet N°239

November 2009

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˜c R olence aga nst women s a major publ c health problem and a v olat on of human r ghts.
˜c ½ack of access to educat on and opportun ty, and low soc al status n commun t es are l nked to
v olence aga nst women.
˜c R olence by an nt mate partner s one of the most common forms of v olence aga nst women.
˜c  w de range of phys cal, mental, sexual and reproduct ve, and maternal health problems can result
from v olence aga nst women.
˜c 0any women do not seek help or report v olence when t occurs.

The Un ted Nat ons def nes v olence aga nst women as any act of gender-based v olence that results n, or s
l kely to result n, phys cal, sexual or mental harm or suffer ng to women, nclud ng threats of such acts,
coerc on or arb trary depr vat on of l berty, whether occurr ng n publ c or n pr vate l fe.

There are many forms of v olence aga nst women, nclud ng sexual, phys cal, or emot onal abuse by an
nt mate partner; phys cal or sexual abuse by fam ly members or others; sexual harassment and abuse by
author ty f gures (such as teachers, pol ce off cers or employers); traff ck ng for forced labour or sex; and such
trad t onal pract ces as forced or ch ld marr ages, dowry-related v olence; and honour k ll ngs, when women
are murdered n the name of fam ly honour. Systemat c sexual abuse n confl ct s tuat ons s another form of
v olence aga nst women.

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˜c èn a 10-country study on women's health and domest c v olence conducted by WHO,
oc ‰etween 15% and 71% of women reported phys cal or sexual v olence by a husband or
partner.
oc 0any women sa d that the r f rst sexual exper ence was not consensual. (24% n rural Peru,
28% n Tanzan a, 30% n rural ‰angladesh, and 40% n South fr ca).
oc ‰etween 4% and 12% of women reported be ng phys cally abused dur ng pregnancy. 0ore
about the study
˜c Avery year, about 5,000 women are murdered by fam ly members n the name of honour each year
worldw de.
˜c Traff ck ng of women and g rls for forced labour and sex s w despread and often affects the most
vulnerable.
˜c Forced marr ages and ch ld marr ages v olate the human r ghts of women and g rls, yet they are
w dely pract ced n many countr es n s a, the 0 ddle Aast and sub-Saharan fr ca.
˜c Worldw de, up to one n f ve women and one n 10 men report exper enc ng sexual abuse as ch ldren.
Ch ldren subjected to sexual abuse are much more l kely to encounter other forms of abuse later n
l fe.

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Health consequences can result d rectly from v olent acts or from the long-term effects of v olence.

˜c è   Phys cal and sexual abuse by a partner s closely assoc ated w th njur es. R olence by an
nt mate partner s the lead ng cause of non-fatal njur es to women n the US.
˜c m
 Deaths from v olence aga nst women nclude honour k ll ngs (by fam l es for cultural
reasons); su c de; female nfant c de (murder of nfant g rls); and maternal death from unsafe abort on.
˜c Ñ

 R olence aga nst women s assoc ated w th sexually transm tted
nfect ons such as HèRèDS, un ntended pregnanc es, gynaecolog cal problems, nduced abort ons,
and adverse pregnancy outcomes, nclud ng m scarr age, low b rth we ght and fetal death.
˜c 6    Sexual abuse as a ch ld s assoc ated w th h gher rates of sexual r sk-tak ng (such
as f rst sex at an early age, mult ple partners and unprotected sex), substance use, and add t onal
v ct m zat on. Aach of these behav ours ncreases r sks of health problems.
˜c 0

 R olence and abuse ncrease r sk of depress on, post-traumat c stress d sorder, sleep
d ff cult es, eat ng d sorders and emot onal d stress.
˜c ü 
 buse can result n many health problems, nclud ng headaches, back pa n,
abdom nal pa n, f bromyalg a, gastro ntest nal d sorders, l m ted mob l ty, and poor overall health.

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The soc al and econom c costs of v olence aga nst women are enormous and have r pple effects throughout
soc ety. Women may suffer solat on, nab l ty to work, loss of wages, lack of part c pat on n regular
act v t es, and l m ted ab l ty to care for themselves and the r ch ldren.

 
 
Though r sk factors vary, some character st cs seem to ncrease the l kel hood of v olence. The potent al r sk
factors can be grouped nto the follow ng subsets.

˜c è   Personal attr butes assoc ated w th h gher r sk of v olence nclude: l m ted educat on, a
young age, lower soc o-econom c status, l m ted educat on, a h story of abuse and substance use, and,
for partner v olence, the cho ce of partner. Partner tra ts that put women at r sk nclude alcohol or drug
use, low educat onal level, negat ve att tudes about women, and w tness ng domest c v olence aga nst
women or be ng abused as a ch ld.
˜c Y 
   W th n fam l es, r sk of v olence ncreases w th mar tal confl cts, male
dom nance, econom c stress and poor fam ly funct on ng.
˜c ] 
 W th n commun t es, the r sk s h gher where there s gender nequal ty, and a lack of
commun ty cohes on or resources.
˜c Ñ 
 On a broader level, h gher r sk s found n soc et es w th trad t onal gender norms or a lack
of autonomy for women, and where there are restr ct ve laws on d vorce and ownersh p and
nher tance of property, or when there s soc al breakdown due to confl cts or d sasters.

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Further evaluat on s needed to assess the effect veness of v olence prevent on measures. èntervent ons w th
prom s ng results nclude ncreas ng educat on and opportun t es for women and g rls, mprov ng the r self-
esteem and negot at ng sk lls, and reduc ng gender nequ t es n commun t es.

Other efforts w th pos t ve outcomes nclude: work w th teenagers to reduce dat ng v olence; programmes that
support ch ldren who have w tnessed nt mate partner v olence; mass publ c educat on campa gns; and work
w th men and boys to change att tudes towards gender nequ t es and the acceptab l ty of v olence.

dvocacy for v ct ms, better awareness of v olence and ts consequences among health workers, and w der
knowledge of ava lable resources for abused women ( nclud ng legal ass stance, hous ng and ch ld care), can
lessen the consequences of v olence.

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WHO and partners collaborate to decrease v olence aga nst women through n t at ves that help to dent fy,
quant fy and respond to the problem, nclud ng:

1.c ‰    on the scope and types of v olence n d fferent sett ngs. Th s s a key step n
understand ng the magn tude and nature of the problem at a global level.
2.c m   for 0ember States and health profess onals to prevent v olence and strengthen
health sector responses to t.
3.c m  
 nformat on to countr es and 
 nat onal efforts to advance women's r ghts
and prevent v olence.
4.c ]
 w th nternat onal agenc es and organ zat ons to deter v olence aga nst women
globally.

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