Respect Equality

WHO says one-third of all women encounter physical or sexual violence

world health organization WHO sexual physical assault women 1 in 3 one in three 33 percent young women
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Story at a glance

  • About 1 in 3 women have suffered sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, the World Health Organization writes.
  • Intimate partners are often responsible.

With International Women’s Day having just passed on March 9, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a grim statistic: 1 in 3 women across the world have experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner or from a nonpartner.

The 1-in-3 statistic is well known, having not significantly changed over the past decade. Per WHO estimates, this amounts to roughly 736 million women globally. 

Younger women aged 15-25 are a particularly vulnerable group, with 1 in 4 who have been in a relationship will have likely already experienced violence by an intimate partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties.

Incidents of violence against women, especially domestic abuse, have spiked as the pandemic ordered people to stay at home.

“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,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. 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.”

These statistics are also based on reporting. With sexual assault being a highly stigmatized issue that often goes unreported, this could be a lowball figure.

Improved legislative and policy infrastructure that penalizes domestic abuse and sexual violence is critical to reducing it, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said. Much work is needed in regions like Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, which have the highest rates of intimate partner violence against women aged 15-49.

The regions with the lowest rates are Europe, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, and Southeastern Asia.

Among the improved support systems for survivors, adequate health care needs, educational interventions and institutions that uphold gender equality are all recommended by WHO officials as safeguards against sexual violence against women.