Nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime, a pervasive practice that has been exacerbated during the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday (March 9).
The U.N. agency urged governments to prevent violence, improve services for victims and tackle economic inequalities that often leave females trapped in abusive relationships.
Boys should be taught in school about a need for mutual respect in relationships and mutual consent in sex, WHO officials said.
Up to 852 million women are estimated by the WHO to have experienced physical or sexual violence from age 15.
Harm inflicted by a husband or intimate partner is the most widespread form, with a disproportionate number of victims in lower income countries, the agency said in a report. But given heavy stigma and under-reporting of sexual abuse, the true figure is likely to be significantly higher, it said.
“These numbers are very shocking and really are sort of a wake-up call for governments to be doing much more to prevent this violence”, report author Claudia Garcia-Moreno told Reuters.
Countries with the highest prevalence include Kiribati, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Uganda and Bolivia, WHO data show.
Violence starts “alarmingly young”, according to its largest ever such study which covers 2000-2018.
One in four adolescent girls aged 15-19 who have been in a relationship have been subjected to either physical or sexual violence, Garcia-Moreno said.
“This is a very important and formative time in life. And we know that the impacts of this violence can be long-lasting and can affect physical and mental health”, she said.
Higher rates of violence against women have been reported in some places during the COVID-19 pandemic, Garcia-Moreno said, as lockdowns have intensified risk factors for women, including financial stress, children at home and having to live in confined spaces for long periods.
“These are all things that we know can contribute to exacerbating an already existing violent situation”, she added.