The World of International Organizations

U.N. study shows ‘horrifying’ violence against women

Scene from an event in Bonn, Germany last November for the U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (AN/Mika Baumeister)
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About 30 percent of all women worldwide have been subjected to physical or sexual violence at least once during their lives, according to a comprehensive survey released by several U.N. agencies on Tuesday.

As much as a quarter of the recent violence has been directed against girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24, the survey found based on interviews with more than 24,000 women among 10 nations and other relevant data collected in 158 nations. It was conducted for a U.N. working group on violence against women. The working group is overseen by the World Health Organization, World Bank, UNICEF, U.N. Development Program and U.N. Population Fund.

“The results paint a horrifying picture,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing.

“An estimated 736 million women — almost one in three women globally — have suffered intimate partner violence, sexual violence from a non-partner, or both, at least once in their lives,” he said. “And almost one in four adolescent girls in a partnership have experienced physical and-or sexual violence from a partner or husband before their 19th birthday.”

Worse for young women and mothers

The study found women in low and lower middle-income nations were disproportionally affected. An estimated 37 percent experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, but the rate was as high as 50 percent in some places.

In Oceania, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate among girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 ranged from 33 percent to 51 percent. Europe had the lowest rates, from 16 percent to 23 percent.

“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 to 24 who may also be young mothers,” said U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“And that was the situation before the pandemic stay-at home orders,” she said in a statement. “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. Every government should be taking strong, proactive steps to address this, and involving women in doing so.”

The study uses data from 2000 to 2018 and interviews preceding the pandemic. The real figures now are likely far worse. In April, U.N. and public health officials said the pandemic was exacerbating domestic violence around the globe as half the world’s population grappled with stay-at-home orders to keep the virus from spreading.

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