Story at a glance
- An estimated 27 percent of ever-partnered women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, according to a new study published in the Lancet.
- The study uses World Health Organization data from before the pandemic, which has exacerbated issues tied to domestic violence, like isolation, depression and anxiety.
- The prevalence of intimate partner violence is likely much higher, as many cases go unreported.
More than 1 in 4 women worldwide have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, new research has found, highlighting the need for investment in interventions to reduce violence against women and promote gender equality coming out of the pandemic.
An estimated 27 percent of women who have been married or have had a long-term male partner have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, according to a recent study published in the Lancet medical journal using World Health Organization data from before the pandemic.
The study, using population-based surveys, estimated the prevalence of intimate partner violence across the world from 2000 through 2018. Researchers say that governments are not on track to meet the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which, among other ambitious goals, aims to eliminate violence against women and achieve gender parity in the next eight years.
Data was collected from 161 countries and areas, accounting for 2 million women aged 15 and older, representing 90 percent of the global population of women and girls.
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“These findings confirm that violence against women by male intimate partners remains a global public health challenge,” Claudia García-Moreno, a researcher at the WHO and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “The authors call for urgent investment in effective multisector interventions and a strengthened public health response in tackling this issue post-COVID-19.”
García-Moreno added that although the study took place before the pandemic, “the numbers are alarming and research has shown the pandemic exacerbated issues leading to intimate partner violence such as isolation, depression and anxiety, and alcohol use, as well as reducing access to support services.”
The pandemic has worsened all types of violence against women and girls, the United Nations has said, though domestic violence in particular has intensified. In many places, critical resources for survivors have been diverted to immediate COVID-19 relief.
In the Lancet study, women in North America reported the highest rates of intimate partner violence among “high-income” regions, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of 25 percent. Prevalence of past-year domestic violence was also highest in North America, at 6 percent.
Still, most high-income regions, including Australasia, western Europe and southern Latin America, reported lower rates of physical or sexual intimate partner violence compared to more low-income areas like sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, according to the report.
The study’s authors did acknowledge the limitations of using surveys based on self-reporting, as well as gaps in data among some groups, such as those living with disabilities, Indigenous people, trans women and women in same-sex partnerships.
“Given the sensitive and stigmatised nature of the issue, the true prevalence of violence that these women are subjected to by an intimate partner is likely to be even higher,” the study’s authors wrote.
Isabelle Younane, head of policy at the British charity Women’s Aid, told The Washington Post that the Lancet report is really “just the tip of the iceberg” because most cases of domestic violence go unreported.
Younane said concerns over stigmatization and a lack of trust in law enforcement and the courts are commonly cited by women as reasons for not speaking out.
“We must make sure that lifesaving specialist domestic abuse services are properly funded, as well as tackling the root causes of domestic abuse: challenging sexist attitudes, promoting healthy relationships, and driving a real shift in prevention,” she said.
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