Violence against women at ‘epidemic’ levels worldwide, say experts


By Aisha Majid and Anne Gulland

The UK government has announced plans to toughen up laws on domestic violence, including tagging perpetrators and forcing them to attend alcohol or addiction treatment programmes.

Anyone breaching these tough new orders imposed by the courts could face jail.

Unveiling the plans, prime minister Theresa May highlighted the toll on the two million women in the UK subject to domestic abuse.

“Domestic abuse takes many forms, from physical and sexual abuse, to controlling and coercive behaviour that isolates victims from their families and has long-term, shattering impacts on their children,” she said.

While the situation in the UK is bad, around the world it is worse. The World Health Organization (WHO) described the scale of violence against women as a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.”

WHO data revealed that one in three women – 35.6 per cent – across the world have experienced violence, amounting to more than 800 million women worldwide.

The health effects of this violence are stark. Women who have experienced violence are 16 per cent more likely to have a low birth weight baby; are more than twice as likely to have an abortion; are almost twice as likely to experience depression; and, in some regions, are one and a half times more likely to become infected with HIV.

“You often get countries where gender roles are becoming more fluid and this can be quite dangerous for a woman because men find it hard to accept”
Heidi Stöckl, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Heidi Stöckl, director of the Gender Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “We know that violence is associated with all these health effects like depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and a lot of maternal health problems such as low birth weight and miscarriage. Governments have the data and they must now be held accountable.”

The WHO figures also highlight the fact that 38 per cent of women murdered around the world are killed by their partner, compared to just 6 per cent of men.

In South East Asia, this figure is much higher: 55 per cent of murdered women are killed by a current or ex partner.

And more than one in four women – 42 per cent – who have been physically or sexually abused by a partner have experienced injuries as a result of that violence.


About | Domestic violence
Domestic violence is caused by an abuser’s desire to gain power and control over their partner, and takes many forms:

Physical abuse
Physical abuse is the most recognisable form of abuse, and can range from a slap or a shove to a black eye, cut lip or broken bone. It doesn’t always leave marks or scars
Emotional abuse
Emotional abuse is an attack on personality rather than the body. If someone is altering their behaviour because they are frightened of how their partner will react, they are being abused
Sexual abuse
When someone uses force or threats to make their partner have sex, or make them perform sexual acts with which they are uncomfortable
Financial abuse
There are many different forms, including someone taking their partner’s money, stopping them from working, placing all the bills or debts in their name, or monitoring how they spend money


A study by accountants KPMG found that violence against women cost the South African economy between 28.4 and 42.4 billion rand in 2012-13 – equivalent to between 0.9 per cent and 1.5 per cent of GDP.

Professor Stöckl said evidence on the best way to address violence against women is scarce. Programmes challenging attitudes to women and giving women loans to start businesses via microfinance had shown some success.

“These programmes are promising but they’re also expensive so that’s a challenge,” she said.

She added that women in countries where gender roles were changing, such as Saudi Arabia, could be more vulnerable to violence.

“You often get countries where gender roles are becoming more fluid and this can be quite dangerous for a woman because men find it hard to accept.

“There’s a transition period where there’s a higher risk of violence than in a nation where gender equality is more accepted or where roles are still very traditional,” she said.

But she added she was optimistic things would eventually change.

“No-one is happy in a violent relationship,” she said.

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