“Every day, on average, 137 women are killed by a member of their own family,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN under-secretary general and UN Women executive director, in a statement released in March last year. These appalling figures are just one of the many consequences of gender-based violence and abuse, namely domestic abuse, which is defined as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
As well as physical violence, domestic abuse can take many different shapes and forms — sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions — most of which often end up escalating to serious physical aggression, according to experts. It is one of the most common types of violence experienced by women all over the world, and across all socioeconomic levels; it represents a major healthcare challenge, as well as a violation of human rights.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown measures and their socioeconomic effects have increased the vulnerability of women when faced with abusive partners, while limiting their access to services.
Here are the latest global figures illustrating the severity of this issue:
Worldwide, UN data shows that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence — mostly by an intimate partner, but not only. When accounting for sexual harassment, this figure is even higher.
Across the globe, 27% of women aged 15 to 49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
The prevalence estimates of lifetime intimate-partner violence range from 20% in the Western Pacific, 22% in high-income countries and Europe and 25% in the World Health Organisation (WHO) regions of the Americas to 33% in the WHO African region, 31% in the WHO eastern Mediterranean region, and 33% in the WHO southeast Asia region.
Although women and girls account for a far smaller share of total homicides than men, they bear by far the greatest burden of intimate-partner and family-related homicide. Total homicides victims in 2017, globally, were 80% men and 20% women; but of the totality of intimate partner homicide, 82% of the victims were women, and 18% men.
In the majority of countries with available data in 2015, fewer than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort. Among women who do, fewer than 10% seek help by appealing to the police.
Gender-based violence is not only devastating for survivors and their families, but also entails significant social and economic costs, according to the World Bank. In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP — more than double what most governments spend on education.
Globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners — most of whom are men.
A UN Population Fund report published in April last year estimates there was a 20% increase in domestic violence incidents across the UN’s 193 member states during the Covid-19 lockdowns early in the year.
Sexual and physical violence: global figures
Some 1 in 20 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 — about 13-million globally — have experienced forced sex in their lifetimes.
Three of four victims of human trafficking are women, according to the UN, and four of five trafficked women are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
At least 200-million women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in 30 countries in which representative data is available. In most of these countries, the majority of girls were cut before age five.
Some 45% to 55% of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15 in the EU.
In the EU, 31% of women have experienced one or more acts of physical violence since the age of 15.
The European Commission estimates that one in 20 women (5%) has been raped in EU countries since the age of 15.
Child marriage: Global figures
Since 1995, the global rate of child marriage has declined from one of four girls to one five, but UN children’s agency Unicef estimates that more than 120-million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030 unless the practice is prevented.
About 21% — 650-million — of women and girls in the world today were married before age 18 according to Unicef.
In South Asia, child marriage has declined from 49% to 30% in the past decade.
Nearly 12-million girls under 18 are married each year in sub-Saharan Africa — that is 37% of young women, or four girls of 10.
Child marriage is often the result of entrenched gender inequality, making girls disproportionately affected by the practice. Globally, the prevalence of child marriage among boys is just one sixth that among girls.
Child marriage often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupts schooling, limits the girl’s opportunities and increases her risk of experiencing domestic violence.
Domestic-violence killings of women and girls: 2017 figures
→ Asia: The largest number (a total of 20 000) of all women killed worldwide by intimate partners or family members in 2017 was in Asia, with a 0.9 per 100 000 female population.
→ Africa (19 000 total) — With an intimate-partner and family-related homicide rate of 3.1 per 100 000 female population, Africa is the region in which women run the greatest risk of being killed by their intimate partner or family members.
→ the Americas (8 000 total) — The intimate-partner and family-related homicide rate was also high in the Americas in 2017, at 1.6 per 100 000 female population
→ Europe (3 000 total) — Europe is the region in which the risk is lowest, with 0.7 per 100 000 population.
→ Oceania (300 total) — Oceani has, at 1.3 cases per 100 000 population.
(Source: UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Study on Homicide – Gender-related killing of women and girls, 2018)
Domestic violence figures in Towards Equality’s media partners’ countries
Almost 90% of women in Afghanistan have experienced at least one form of domestic violence, 17% have experienced sexual violence and 52% have experienced physical violence, according to WHO.
Some 51% of ever-partnered women aged 15 to 49 years have experienced intimate-partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, as have 35% of women aged 20 to 24 years who were first married or in union before age 18, according to the latest UN Women data.
In 2019, Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission recorded nearly 4,700 cases of violence against women in Afghanistan, an 8% increase compared to the previous year. The same year, 238 Afghan women were murdered, with 96 labelled as “honour killings”.
Almost 27% of women aged 18 to 69 years have experienced intimate-partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime since age 16, and 12% have suffered sexual violence perpetrated by someone other than an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime since age 16, UN data shows.
In Argentina, one woman is killed every 32 hours, according to the Women’s Office of the Supreme Court of Justice.
In 2020, 298 women were killed on the account of their gender, according to Statista figures. This is an increase from the previous year, when 252 femicides were registered, of which 179 women had been killed by their intimate partner or ex-partner, according to the UN’s Gender Equality Observatory.
Someone is raped every eight minutes in Brazil, according to 2019 data from the Brazilian Public Security Forum (BPSF): 85.7% of the victims are female and about 58% are under 13 years old.
Also according to the BPSF, 1 326 femicides were registered in 2019, a 7.1% increase compared to the previous year. Nearly nine of 10 were killed by their own partner or former partner, and more than 66% were black.
Some 16% of women aged 16 years and older have experienced intimate-partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, and 26.2% of women aged 20 to 24 years who were first married or in union before age 18, according to UN data.
Some 26% of ever-partnered women aged 18 to 74 years have experienced intimate-partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, and 9% of women aged 18 to 74 years have experienced sexual violence perpetrated by someone other than an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, according to UN data.
France has one of the highest rates of murders linked to domestic violence in Western Europe. In 2019, 149 women were killed as a result, according to the nonprofit watchdog Fémicides Par Compagnon Ou Ex.
According to the French interior ministry, rape and domestic-violence cases experienced an 11% and 9% increase respectively last year, from their 2019 levels, when 142 310 individuals reported being victims of domestic violence, according to the French police — 88% of whom were women.
Some 19% of ever-partnered women aged 18 to 74 years have experienced intimate-partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, and 5% of women aged 18 to 74 years have experienced sexual violence perpetrated by someone other than an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, according to UN data.
In 2019, 111 women were killed in acts of domestic violence by their partner, former partner or a family member, according to Statista research.
Five thousand cases of sexual violence cases were reported to the police in 2019, Statista data shows, 90.7% of which had female victims.
Domestic violence cases in Japan hit a record high of more than 130 000 in fiscal 2020 (from April 2020 to March 2021), according to a government survey.
In 2015 government statistics reported that one in four Japanese women suffered abuse by their spouses.
Some 15.4% of Japanese women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner at some time in their life, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data.
According to government data, 45% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and 14% have experienced sexual violence.
Last year, local media reported almost 4 000 schoolgirls becoming pregnant when schools were closed during lockdown. In most cases, they had allegedly been raped by relatives or police officers. There are no official statistics on the number of cases of violence against women and girls in Kenya, but calls to helplines have surged more than tenfold since lockdown measures were imposed in late March 2020, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) and the UN.
Some 21% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have undergone female genital mutilation and 22.8% of women aged 20 to 24 years were first married or in union before age 18, according to UN data.
According to the TRF, the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) said domestic violence reports doubled in 2020, with 1 468 cases registered, up from 747 during the previous year. However, no official statistics exist and the ISF is not allowed to speak to the media, the foundation says.
Abaad, a women’s rights organization, saw calls to its helpline triple to 4 127 in 2020, up from 1 375 in 2019, according to the TRF.
Overall, every Lebanese person aged 20 to 50 knows, on average, 1.7 victim of family violence, according to research published in March 2021 and conducted by Ipsos for the UN Population Fund and UN Women.
In Morocco, more than 50% of women have experienced violence, according to 2019 data released by the solidarity, family and social development ministry. Of these women, only about 28% have sought help from others regarding their abusive environment.
Some 16% of women aged 20 to 24 years were first married or in union before age 18, according to UN data.
Eight of every 10 women in Morocco have already been subjected to at least one act of violence in their life, according to Statista research.
→ South Africa:
In 2019-20, a total of 2 695 women were murdered in South Africa. This means a woman is murdered every three hours, according to the Africa Health Organisation. Femicide is five times higher in South Africa than the global average, with South Africa having the fourth-highest female interpersonal-violence death rate out of the 183 countries listed by the WHO in 2016.
Some 51% of women in South Africa say they’ve experienced gender-based violence, with 76% of men saying they’ve perpetrated gender-based violence at one stage in their lives, according to the Africa Health Organisation.
In 2019-20, 53 293 sexual offences were reported, an average of 146 a day, up from 52 420 in 2018-19. Most of these were cases of rape.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world: 132.4 incidents per 100 000 people. According to a survey conducted in 2009 by the South African Medical Research Council, aboutone in four men surveyed admitted to committing rape.
The number of women victims of gender-based violence increased by 2% in 2019, to 31 911, according to the Spanish National Statistics Institute. Domestic violence specifically soared, by 3.6%. Almost half of the victims were 15 to 39 years old.
Some 43 women were murdered by their partners or former partners in Spain in 2020, according to the Government Delegation for Gender Violence; 83 according to the online feminist watchdog Femicidio.net. Fifteen have been murdered so far, from January to May 2021, according to the research institute EpData.
Some13% of ever-partnered women aged 18 to 74 years have experienceding intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, according to UN data.
Some29 people died in Switzerland in 2019 as a result of domestic violence, 72% of whom were female, according to the Federal Statistical Office, meaning that two-thirds of all homicides last year were the result of abuse by a partner. Every four weeks a woman is killed within a partnership.
A total of 19 669 cases of domestic violence were registered in 2019, up 6.2% from the previous year.
According to research conducted by Amnesty International in 2019, one in five women surveyed has been subjected to sexual violence in Switzerland, and more than 10% of women surveyed had been raped. Only 8% of women surveyed reported the assault to the police.
In the year ending March 2020, 5.5% of people aged 16 to 74 in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the 12 months before being surveyed — 1.6 million of whom were women — according to UK government data. White women (7.7%) were more than twice as likely as white men (3.6%) to experience domestic abuse; they were also more likely than Asian women (4.4%) or black women (4.6%) to experience domestic abuse.
The police recorded a total of more than 750 000 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes in England and Wales (excluding Greater Manchester Police) in the year ending March 2020, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Almost one in three women aged 16 to 59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime, according to the ONS. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone.
Editor’s note: There is no later data to update the score for violence in Europe. Eurostat is currently coordinating an EU-wide survey on gender-based violence, with results expected in 2023.