Violence Against Women at Unacceptably High Levels

“Women’s rights are human rights.” Those are the words of Hillary Clinton at The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

Recently, UN Women released Summary Report: The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Turns 20 in light of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women which took place from March 9th to the 20th. The session focused on reviewing progress made in the 20 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. In the foreword to the recent report the Executive Director of UN WomenDr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, called the report “a wake-up call” as the world in the 20 years since Beijing “has not, in the main, improved much for women and girls, and for some has got a lot worse.”

Even though progress has occurred in some countries, no country has achieved gender equality. The Executive Director noted that progress has been stalled due to “forces in the global political and economic landscape that have been particularly hard to mitigate or combat.” These forces include: continued conflicts; the global financial and economic crises; unstable food and energy prices; climate change; extremist and directed backlash against women’s rights; and gender discrimination that is “deeply entrenched” in the minds of individuals, institutions, and societies. UN Women has set 2030 as the expiration date for gender inequality because “gender equality and the realization of women’s and girls’ human rights are fundamental for achieving human rights, peace and security, and sustainable development.”

One section of the report focuses on trends in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in terms of violence against women. The report found that all regions have “unacceptably high rates of violence against women,” as global estimates reveal that 35% of women worldwide have “experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.” One of the biggest obstacles for stopping violence against women is the continuation of discriminatory attitudes and social norms that “normalize and permit violence.” The Platform for Action adopted in 1995 recognized violence against women as a violation of women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms, hindering abilities to achieve equality, development, and peace.


  • Intimate Partner Violence:
    • In terms of low and middle income regions, Africa has the highest proportion of women reporting either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence at 45.6% followed by South East Asia (40.2%), Eastern Mediterranean (36.4%), the Americas (36.1%), Western Pacific (27.9%), and Europe (27.2%).
    • In high-income countries, 32.7% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
    • Intimate partner violence is the most prevalent form of violence women experience, which tends to lead to injury and can result in death.
    • In 2013, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released The Global Study on Homicide 2013, finding that almost half of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner or family members, while for men, the statistics are slightly above 1 in 20 homicide victims.
  • Seeking Help or Support:
    • In March 2014, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights conduced a study Violence Against Women: An EU-Wide Survey. Among data of 42,000 women from 28 member states of the European Union, researchers found that only one-third of victims of partner violence and one-quarter of victims of non-partner violence reached out to the police or support services after the most serious incident of violence.
  • Victim-Blaming:
    • A UN Women analysis of Demographic Health Surveys from 37 developing countries between 2009 and 2014 found that 21% of women believe that a husband is “justified in beating his wife if she argues with him” and 27% of women believe that a husband is “justified in beating his wife if she neglects the children.”
    • The study Intimate Partner Violence Against Women and Victim-Blaming Attitudes Among Europeans was conducted by Enrique Gracia and published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in 2014. Individuals in 15 out of 27 member states of the European Union were asked, “whether women’s behavior was the cause of domestic violence against women.” An average of 52% of individuals agreed with the statement.
  • Global Trafficking:
    • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons released in 2012 found that women represent between 55% and 60% of all trafficking victims detected globally with women and girls combined reaching 75%. In addition, 27% of victims are children and “of every three child victims two are girls and one is a boy.”
  • Sexual Harassment:
    • The same March 2014 study Violence Against Women: An EU-Wide Survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights found that of 42,000 women, 55% reported experiencing sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15 and one in five indicated experiencing sexual harassment in the period of 12 months prior to the survey.
  • Female Genital Mutilation:
    • UNICEF estimates that in 2013 over 125 million girls and women “had undergone some form of female genital mutilation/cutting in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East.” In the next decade, predictions are that an additional 30 million girls are at risk of being cut. While data indicates that the practice is decreasing in prevalence in approximately half of the 29 countries studied, due to population growth, the number of women affected by female genital mutilation/cutting is rising.
  • Child, Early, and Forced Marriage:
    • UNICEF estimates that “over 700 million women alive in 2014 were married before their 18th” Even though the practice of child marriage is declining, it is still largely prevalent in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Going forward, the report noted the urgent need for the implementation of “strong and comprehensive legal and policy frameworks which address all forms of violence against women in all countries.” As the issue of violence against women impacts so many other sectors, the report calls for the integration of response and prevention of violence against women within larger policy frameworks including: national development plans, health, education, security, and justice policies. Laws, policies, and programs focused on addressing violence against women need to also take into account the factors that make marginalized women and girls at an increased risk of violence and the factors that establish an environment where women who are victims of violence can find support. States additionally need to improve their efforts to collect and report data on violence against women. “Women’s rights are human rights” and it is time that all countries start viewing violence against women as a human rights violation – more generally an impediment to their country’s progress – and respond accordingly to prevent it.