Facts everyone should know

Violence Against Women | Intimate Partner Violence | Child Marriage | Sexual Violence and Harassment | Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) | Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation | Violence in Conflict

Violence Against Women

Violence against women, or gender-based violence, is a worldwide problem – and it’s everyone’s problem. It exists in virtually every culture and country on earth. 

Whether at home, on the streets or during war, violence against women and girls is a human rights violation of pandemic proportions that takes place in public and private spaces.

Violence against women and girls manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms.

violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions
– Dr Margaret Chan, World Health Organisation Director-General

One in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. Her experience will deprive her of human rights, put her at risk of mental and physical health problems, and potentially trap her in poverty. 

shewillsurvive follows the UN definition which describes violence against women as:

‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.’
UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Violence against women is both a consequence of and a cause of gender inequality between men and women. As well as being a health problem of epidemic proportions, it’s also a human rights problem of equal severity.

Depending on the type of violation, it can deprive a woman of:

  • her right to health and physical and mental integrity
  • her right to be free from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment
  • her right to life

While those rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are also some pieces of international legislation that protect a woman’s right to be free from violence:

It is each state’s responsibility to protect women living there from violence, including violations like domestic abuse behind closed doors.. Authorities can do this by creating national laws that criminalise violent acts against women, providing support services like safe sheltered accommodation for women who need it, and making sure that crimes can be reported and prosecuted safely and justly. Sometimes this includes working to change public attitudes and challenging the stigma around reporting violent crime.

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Intimate Partner Violence (Domestic Abuse)

What is intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence is any behaviour by a current or former partner or spouse that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm. This is one of the most common forms of violence experienced by women globally.

Worldwide, 1 in 2 women killed were killed by their partners or family in 2012. In contrast, 1 out of 20 of all men killed were killed in such circumstances.

Worldwide, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence — mostly by an intimate partner. When accounting for sexual harassment, this figure is even higher.

Laws must protect women

Almost three quarters of the world’s countries have outlawed domestic violence.

78 countries have legislation that explicitly criminalizes marital rape.

Domestic abuse disproportionately affects women, at the hands of men.

Gender is the most significant factor for being a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence in particular

Although we have some statistics around domestic violence, it’s difficult to know just how many women are affected by this notoriously under-reported issue. But the information we do have gives a glimpse into just how widespread this deadly issue is:

  • 35% of women in the world in 2013 have experienced violence. That could be physical or sexual violence from someone they know, or sexual violence from a stranger.
  • Nearly a third of women who’ve been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of their partner.
  • 38% of murders of women are committed by their partners – all according to the World Health Organisation.

As well as the obvious human rights and health repercussions of domestic abuse, violence at home has economic implications. A woman may experience violence because she lives in poverty, but she may also experience poverty as a result of violent crimes. A study in India found that women lose around five paid work days for every incident of domestic violence.

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Child Marriage

What is the impact of child marriage?

Child marriage usually means an end to girl’s education, vocation and her right to make life choices. Research confirms that girls who marry in childhood are at greater risk for intimate partner violence than girls of the same age who marry later.

650 Million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday.

4 in 10 girls in West and Central Africa were married before age 18.

Image by Petr Ovralov on Unsplash

Sexual Violence and Harassment

What is sexual violence and harassment?

Sexual violence is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwelcome sexual comments, advances or other acts of sexual harassment, including against a person’s sexuality, by any person (mostly men) regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting.

Sexually violent acts can take place in different circumstances and settings

These include, for example:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances or sexual harassment, including demanding sex in return for favours
  • Rape (within marriage and relationships, by strangers, and during armed conflicts)
  • Sexual abuse of children
  • Forced marriage or cohabitation, including child marriage

Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex at some point in their life.

45 to 55% of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15 in the European Union.

Image by @verneho

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC), includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Beyond extreme physical and psychological pain, the practice carries many health risks, including death.

At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries where representative data is available.

In most of these countries, the majority of girls were cut before age 5.

Key Facts About Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
  • More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
  • FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM due to the erroneous belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized. The WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.


Female genital mutilation is classified into 4 major types.

  • Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva ).
  • Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
  • Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Deinfibulation refers to the practice of cutting open the sealed vaginal opening in a woman who has been infibulated, which is often necessary for improving health and well-being as well as to allow intercourse or to facilitate childbirth.

No health benefits, only harm

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Generally speaking, risks increase with increasing severity of the procedure.

Immediate complications can include:

  • severe pain
  • excessive bleeding (haemorrhage)
  • genital tissue swelling
  • fever
  • infections e.g., tetanus
  • urinary problems
  • wound healing problems
  • injury to surrounding genital tissue
  • shock
  • death

Long-term consequences can include:

  • urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections);
  • vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections);
  • menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.);
  • scar tissue and keloid;
  • sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.);
  • increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths;
  • need for later surgeries: for example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (deinfibulation). Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks;
  • psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.);
  • Health complications of female genital mutilation

Who is at risk?

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and adolescence, and occasionally on adult women. More than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.

More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated [1].

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries the Middle East and Asia, as well as among migrants from these areas. FGM is therefore a global concern.

Cultural and social factors for performing FGM

The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another as well as over time, and include a mix of sociocultural factors within families and communities. The most commonly cited reasons are:

  • Where FGM is a social convention (social norm), the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, are strong motivations to perpetuate the practice. In some communities, FGM is almost universally performed and unquestioned.
  • FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
  • FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist extramarital sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage extramarital sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
  • Where it is believed that being cut increases marriageability, FGM is more likely to be carried out.
  • FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male.
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
  • Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
  • Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
  • In most societies, where FGM is practised, it is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
  • In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.

Read more about FGM at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation

Image by @carolinehdz

Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is the acquisition and exploitation of people, through means, such as force, fraud, coercion, or deception. This heinous crime ensnares millions of women and girls worldwide, many of whom are sexually exploited.

71% of all trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls.

3 out of 4 trafficked women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Photo by Alan Labisch on Unsplash

Violence in Conflict

It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in conflict.’
– Major General Patrick Carnmaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DRC

Rape and sexual abuse have been used as weapons of war throughout history. The lack of stability and security leaves women and girls in particular more vulnerable than ever to violence. But for a long time it was just accepted that this was inevitable where conflict was happening, and few efforts were made to prosecute perpetrators for mass rapes and sexual violence.

The Geneva Convention has in theory protected individuals from rape and threatened acts of violence in conflict zones since 1946. Only in 1998 did the UN pass a resolution classing sexual violence in conflict, including rape, as a war crime.

Image of people rioting surrounded by smoke and flames
Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Additional resources


Global and regional estimates of violence against women, WHO, 2013; Global Study on Homicide 2013, UNODC, 2014

Women, Business and the Law 2018, World Bank Group, 2018

Child Marriage: Latest Trends and Future Prospects, UNICEF, 2018

A Familiar Face: Violence in the lives of children and adolescents, UNICEF, 2017

Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, UNODC, 2016

Violence against women: An EU-wide survey, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A global concern, UNICEF, 2016/UN Women

World Health Organization Facts Sheets: Female Genital Mutilation https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation

UN Women