Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. It can include physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse, and it cuts across boundaries of age, race, culture, wealth and geography. It takes place in the home, on the streets, in schools, the workplace, in farm fields, refugee camps, during conflicts and crises. It has many manifestations — from the most universally prevalent forms of domestic and sexual violence, to harmful practices, abuse during pregnancy, so-called honour killings and other types of femicide.
International and regional legal instruments have clarified obligations of States to prevent, eradicate and punish violence against women and girls. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) requires that countries party to the Convention take all appropriate steps to end violence. However, the continued prevalence of violence against women and girls demonstrates that this global pandemic of alarming proportions is yet to be tackled with all the necessary political commitment and resources.
Globally, up to six out of every ten women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. A World Health Organization study of 24,000 women in 10 countries found that the prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence by a partner varied from 15 percent in urban Japan to 71 percent in rural Ethiopia, with most areas being in the 30–60 percent range.
Violence against women and girls has far-reaching consequences, harming families and communities. For women and girls 16–44 years old, violence is a major cause of death and disability. In 1994, a World Bank study on ten selected risk factors facing girls and women in this age group, found rape and domestic violence more dangerous than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria. Studies also reveal increasing links between violence against women and HIV and AIDS. A survey among 1,366 South African women showed that women who were beaten by their partners were 48 percent more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not.
Gender-based violence not only violates human rights, but also hampers productivity, reduces human capital and undermines economic growth. A 2003 report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceeds US$5.8 billion per year: US$4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly US$1.8 billion due to absenteeism.
Countries have made some progress in addressing violence against women and girls. According to the UN Secretary-General’s 2006 In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women, 89 countries had some legislation on domestic violence, and a growing number of countries had instituted national plans of action. Marital rape is a prosecutable offence in at least 104 States, and 90 countries have laws on sexual harassment. However, in too many countries gaps remain. In 102 countries there are no specific legal provisions against domestic violence, and marital rape is not a prosecutable offence in at least 53 nations.
UN Women works on several fronts towards ending violence against women and girls. This includes tackling its main root: gender inequality. Efforts are multiplied through advocacy campaigns and partnerships with governments, civil society and the UN system. Initiatives range from working to establish legal frameworks and specific national actions, to supporting prevention at the grassroots level, including in conflict and post-conflict situations. UN Women has also supported data collection on violence against women, facilitating new learning on the issue.
UN Women plays an active role in supporting the UN Secretary-General’s multi-year UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, launched in 2008. As a designated coordinator, UN Women works together with the UN system and other partners on the campaign’s regional components in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, expected to be launched in 2009.
UN Women’s Say NO to Violence against Women initiative advances the objectives of the UNiTE campaign through social mobilization. On 25 November 2008, Say NO presented more than 5 million signatures to the UN Secretary-General, demonstrating public support to make ending violence against women a top priority for governments everywhere. The second phase of Say NO, expected to launch in fall 2009, will collect and demonstrate actions from individuals and decision makers everywhere, and engage communities of faith and the youth in raising awareness and preventing violence against women and girls.
On behalf of the UN system, UN Women manages the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.