One in three women globally are subjected to physical or sexual violence during their lifetimes, estimates a damning new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) released hours after International Women’s Day.
The report’s findings are based on data from the largest ever WHO study on the prevalence of violence against women.
“Around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner – a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade,” the WHO statement adds.
Intimate partner violence is the most common form suffered by women, with around 641 million affected globally. The organization said younger women remain particularly at risk of such violence, with one in four women aged 15 to 24 suffering violence at the hands of an intimate partner by the time they reached 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. And that was the situation before the pandemic stay-at home orders,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
She added, “Every government should be taking strong, proactive steps to address this, and involving women in doing so.”
Location and wealth are crucial factors, according to the report, which found that around 37% of women living in the poorest countries had experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. In some countries, the prevalence of such violence was as high as one in every two women.
The official WHO regions of Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Europe had the lowest rates, according to the WHO.
“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said in a statement Tuesday.
“Violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine,” he added. “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.”
The new WHO report is based on data collected from 2000 to 2018 and therefore does not reflect the toll of the pandemic on women. The United Nations has previously said domestic abuse during Covid-19 lockdowns is a “shadow pandemic.”
On International Women’s Day, March 8, protests for equal rights were held around the world. Nearly 20,000 women rallied in Mexico City in anti-femicide protests. Violence against women is an ongoing issue in the nation, where at least 969 women were killed in 2020.
Monday’s protests later turned violent, with 62 police officers and 19 civilians injured in the unrest according to Mexico’s Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection.
According to Reuters, thousands of women also joined International Women’s Day rallies across Spain, while hundreds of people in Australia protested outside government buildings as a national political scandal about the treatment of women in public life intensifies.
CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.