Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

Campaign logoUN Secretary-General's campaign:
United to end the violence against women
. Ban Ki-moon
"Break the silence. When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act."
Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.


Human Rights Violation


Violence against women and girls is not confined to any particular political or economic system, but it is prevalent in every society in the world. It cuts across boundaries of wealth, race and culture. It is an expression of historically and culturally specific values and standards which are today still executed through many social and political institutions that foster women’s subservience and discrimination against women and girls.

International and regional legal instruments have clarified the obligations of States to prevent, eradicate and punish violence against women and girls. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) requires that countries party to the Convention take all appropriate steps to end violence. However, the continued prevalence of violence against women and girls demonstrates that this global pandemic of alarming proportions is yet to be tackled with all the necessary political commitment, action and resources.

Countries have made some progress and initiatives developed to address and prevent violence against women and girls have increased throughout the world in recent years. However, gaps still remain in too many countries.

Fast Facts

Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data.


Violence by an intimate partner

The most common form of violence experienced by women globally is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner, with women beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused.

Studies have found that rates of women suffering physical violence perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner range from 6 per cent in China and 7 per cent in Canada to over 48 per cent in Zambia, Ethiopia and Peru. ii

Several global surveys suggest that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners. iii

Sexual violence

Sexual violence includes abusive sexual contact, making a woman engage in a sexual act without her consent, and attempted or completed sex acts with a woman who is ill, disabled, under pressure or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Rates of sexual violence are difficult to establish because in many societies sexual violence remains an issue of deep shame for women and often their families. Statistics on rape from police records, for example, are notoriously unreliable because of significant underreporting.

Forced and unregistered marriages can increase the vulnerability of women to violence, including sexual violence. vi The practice of early marriage – a form of sexual violence – is common worldwide, with more than 60 million girls worldwide married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million) and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million). vii

Young girls forced into marriage and into sexual relations may suffer health risks, including exposure to HIV/AIDS, and limited school attendance. One effect of sexual abuse is traumatic gynecologic fistula: an injury resulting from severe tearing of the vaginal tissues, rendering the woman incontinent and socially undesirable.

Sexual violence in conflict

Sexual violence in conflict is a serious, present-day atrocity affecting millions of people, primarily women and girls.

It is frequently a conscious strategy employed on a large scale by armed groups to humiliate opponents, terrify individuals and destroy societies. Women and girls may also be subjected to sexual exploitation by those mandated to protect them.

Women as old as grandmothers and as young as toddlers have routinely suffered violent sexual abuse at the hands of military and rebel forces.

Rape has long been used as a tactic of war, with violence against women during or after armed conflicts reported in every international or non-international war-zone.

Violence and HIV/AIDS

Several studies from around the globe confirm the links between violence against women and HIV. Women’s inability to negotiate safe sex and refuse unwanted sex is closely linked to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Unwanted sex results in a higher risk of abrasion and bleeding and easier transmission of the virus. x

Women who are beaten by their partners are 48 per cent more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS. xi

Young women are particularly vulnerable to coerced sex and are increasingly being infected with HIV/AIDS. Over half of new HIV infections worldwide are occurring among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and more than 60 per cent of HIV-positive youth in this age bracket are female. xii The vulnerability of women and girls to HIV remains particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa; 80 % of all women in the world living with HIV live in this region. xiii

Female Genital Mutilation/Genital Cutting

Female Genital Mutilation/Genital Cutting (FGM/C) refers to several types of traditional cutting operations performed on women and girls.

Dowry murder

Dowry murder is a brutal practice where a woman is killed by her husband or in-laws because her family cannot meet their demands for dowry — a payment made to a woman’s in-laws upon her marriage as a gift to her new family.

While dowries or similar payments are prevalent worldwide, dowry murder occurs predominantly in South Asia.

“Honour killing”

In many societies, rape victims, women suspected of engaging in premarital sex, and women accused of adultery have been murdered by their relatives because the violation of a woman’s chastity is viewed as an affront to the family’s honour.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide number of so-called “honour killing” victims may be as high as 5,000 women. xv

Trafficking in persons

Although the global scale of human trafficking is difficult to quantify, it is estimated that as many as 2.5 million people are trafficked annually into situations including prostitution, forced labour, slavery or servitude. Women and girls account for about 80 per cent of the detected victims. xvi

Violence during pregnancy

Violence before and during pregnancy has serious health consequences for both mother and child. It leads to high-risk pregnancies and pregnancy-related problems, including miscarriage, pre-term labour and low birth weight.

Female infanticide, prenatal sex selection and systematic neglect of girls are widespread in South and East Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Discrimination and violence

Many women face multiple forms of discrimination and increased risk of violence. Factors such as women’s ethnicity, caste, class, migrant or refugee status, age, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, disability or HIV status will influence what forms of violence they suffer and how they experience it.

Sexual harassment

Violence against women in police custody is common and includes sexual violence, inappropriate surveillance, strip searches conducted by men and demands for sexual acts in exchange for privileges or basic necessities.



The costs of violence against women are extremely high. They include the direct costs of services to treat and support abused women and their children and to bring perpetrators to justice.

The indirect costs include lost employment and productivity, and the costs in human pain and suffering.

  1. United Nations Statistics Division (2010): The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics, p. 127 United Nations Publication ST/ESA/STAT/SER.K/19
  2. United Nations Statistics Division (2010): The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics, p. 131, United Nations Publication ST/ESA/STAT/SER.K/19
  3. Krug EG et al., eds. (2002) World report on violence and health. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2002
  4. Krug EG et al., eds. (2002) World report on violence and health, p. 97. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2002,
  5. General Assembly (2006). In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Report of the Secretary-General, A/61/122/Add. 1
  6. Manjoo, R. (2010) Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences A/HRC/14/22/Add.2, paragraph 48. UN Geneva
  7. UN Women (2011), Facts and Figures on Violence against Women, www.unwomen.org
  8. UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2010), Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4ca99bc22.html
  9. Degni-Ségui, R. (1994) Report on the situation of human rights in Rwanda E/CN.4/1996/68 paragraph 16, Geneva: UN, 29 Jan. 1996.
  10. World Health Organization and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (2010). Addressing violence against women and HIV/AIDS: What works? WHO Document Production Services, Geneva, Switzerland
  11. UNAIDS, UNFPA and UNIFEM (2004). Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis, chapter 6. Available at http://bit.ly/sq7eKw
  12. UNICEF, UNAIDS and WHO (2002). Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis, p. 5.
  13. UNAIDS (2010) Global report: UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic 2010, p. 121
  14. World Health Organization (2011). An update on WHO's work on female genital mutilation (FGM). Progress Report. WHO/RHR/11.18. p. 1.
  15. UNFPA (2000) The State of the World’s Population, chapter 3
  16. United Nations Office on Drugs and crime (2009). Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. Human Trafficking. A Crime That Shames Us All, p. 11.
  17. General Assembly (2006). In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Report of the Secretary-General, A/61/122/Add. 1. Paragraph 148
  18. UN Women (2011), Facts and Figures on Violence against Women, www.unwomen.org
  19. General Assembly (2006). In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Report of the Secretary-General, A/61/122/Add. 1
  20. General Assembly (2006). In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Report of the Secretary-General, A/61/122/Add. 1
  21. Garcia-Moreno, C. and Watts, C. (2011). Violence against women: an urgent public health priority. Available at: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/89/1/10.085217