UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
© Credits

Violence against women


    Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public and clinical health problem and a violation of women's human rights. It is rooted in and perpetuates gender inequalities.

    Globally 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, mostly by an intimate partner. This is a stark reminder of the scale of gender inequality and discrimination against women.

    The United Nations defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

    Intimate partner violence refers to behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.

    Sexual violence is "any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object."


    Violence against women is a global problem of pandemic proportions. It causes devastating, harm to women’s lives and that of their children. It also hurts the economic and social health of their families, communities, and countries.

    While some women are more at risk than others, violence can happen to any woman, in any country – regardless of culture, religion or economic status. Gender inequality including harmful gender norms are key drivers of violence against women.

    Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health. It is associated with increased risk of injuries, depression, anxiety disorders, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections,  HIV and many other health problems .

    Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances. These can lead to mental and development problems and also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life.

    WHO response

    WHO plays a key role in bringing attention to and responding to violence

    against women as a public health and gender equality issue through:

    • Research and evidence-building to highlight the magnitude of violence against women, its risk factors and consequences, and to identify effective interventions for prevention and response.
    • Developing guidelines and tools, setting norms and standards for an effective health response to violence against women.
    • Strengthening country capacity of health systems and providers to prevent and respond to violence against women.
    • Encouraging leadership in health systems and building political will to address violence against women through advocacy and partnerships.


    The WHO 13th General Programme of Work (GPW) includes violence against women as part of its contribution to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment (specifically, SDG 5.2 on the elimination of violence against women and girls).

    At the World Health Assembly in May 2016, Member States endorsed a global plan of action on strengthening the role of the health systems in addressing interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls and against children.


    All →

    Latest publications

    All →
    Addressing violence against women in pre-service health training: integrating content from the Caring for women subjected to violence curriculum

    This guide is a companion to the WHO publication Caring for women subjected to violence: a WHO curriculum for training health care providers, which consists...

    Improving the collection and use of administrative data on violence against women: 
global technical guidance

    Countries are increasingly interested in using violence against women (VAW) administrative data to understand, prevent and respond to VAW and are...

    Sexual and reproductive health and rights: infographic snapshot

    Realization of Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) requires provision of comprehensive, people-centred services, that address the different...

    Universal health coverage for sexual and reproductive health in Morocco: evidence brief

    This evidence brief builds on a case study conducted in Morocco on the process and status of the integration of e sexual and reproductive health...

    Feature stories

    All →