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In a Global First, Global Data on Violence Against Women

The World Health Organization today released what it calls the first-ever global study into the prevalence of violence against women.

The results are bracing. According to WHO, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced some type of sexual violence, most of them at the hands of an intimate partner, and nearly 30 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. In some regions, WHO says, it is nearly 38 percent.

Topping the regional list is WHO’s South-East Asia administrative region, which includes India, Bangladesh, and Thailand, where an estimated 37.7 percent of women can expect to be beaten or sexually assaulted by a spouse or intimate partner.

Source: World Health Organization
Source: World Health Organization

Recent outrages in India, which was galvanized by the fatal December gang-rape of a New Delhi college student, and in Brazil, which has also been shaken by a spate of high-profile sexual assault cases, have made news in the United States and Europe. But the epidemic of violence against women is by no means restricted to the global south.

In what WHO terms a “high-income” zone comprising the United States, Canada, members of the European Union, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan, nearly a quarter of all women — an estimated 23.2 percent — suffer violence from an intimate partner.

In fact, women in the “high-income” countries have the highest likelihood of being sexually assaulted by a person who is not their spouse or partner, according to the study. An estimated 12.6 percent of women in these wealthy countries will be sexually assaulted in this manner during their lifetime, the report says.

Here is the study’s regional breakdown of the lifetime prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence against women by an intimate partner (with the individual countries supplying data in parentheses):

* Africa (Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia,

Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda,

South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe) 36.6%

* Americas (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador,

El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua,

Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia) 29.8%

* Eastern Mediterranean (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories) 37.0%

* Europe (Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova,

Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine) 25.4%

* South-East Asia (Bangladesh, Timor-Leste [East Timor], India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand) 37.7%

* Western Pacific (Cambodia, China, Philippines, Samoa, Viet Nam) 24.6

* High Income (see above) 23.2%


“These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, said in a press release issued before today’s announcement in Geneva, Switzerland. “We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”

The consequences of this violence are felt over course of the victim’s lifetime — and across generations. Women who have been beaten or raped by their partners report higher rates of health problems, WHO says.  Sixteen percent are more likely to have low birth-weight babies; they are more than twice as likely to have an abortion; are nearly twice as likely to experience depression; and in some regions they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV.

The report, Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, was produced by WHO, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the South African Medical Research Council.

Here’s a video from India’s great Bell Bajao — Ring the Bell — campaign against domestic violence.


  1. Clara
    June 23, 2013, 4:48 pm

    For me, the more important message of this study – when you read the actual study – is that there are not enough worldwide research papers for health problems associated with situations such as sexual assault outside a partnership.

    There is not even a study on posttraumatic stress disorder. I have been raped in Europe – once in a college by a lecturer, once by an unknown person in a park. It has been hard to get over the trauma, because psychiatrists like to see trauma related symptoms as depresson oder personality disordner. Some even believe that “victims” just make up stories.

    I have to consider myself lucky that I was just injured and traumatized and that I didn’t get infected by sex related viruses or get pregnant.

    And I think that it is sad, that I have to think that way.