Violence against women and girls

Violence against women and girls

Violence against women and girls is one of the world’s most pervasive and prevalent human rights violations. Violence against women transcends time periods, cultures and borders, taking place in peacetime and in war, in times of crisis and disaster, at home and in the community, every day, all over the world and throughout a woman’s lifecycle. It inflicts severe long- and short-term physical, economic, emotional and even sexual consequences on women and girls, preventing them from enjoying their human rights, including their right to life, health, security, dignity and non-discrimination.

The 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women further defines VAWG 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.” (Article 1)

Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation

Violence against women and girls is a form of gender-based discrimination and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in general international law and human rights treaties, including:

  • The right to life
  • The right to integrity, liberty and security of the person
  • The right to health
  • The right to work and just and favourable conditions of work
  • The right to non-discrimination and equality
  • The right to be free from torture, cruel punishment and inhuman or degrading treatment

Violence against women and girls is defined as a human rights concern in various landmark international and regional human rights treaties and documents:

  • UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW)
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • CEDAW general recommendations No.19 and No.35
  • African Union’s Maputo Protocol
  • Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention
  • Organization of American States’ Convention of Belém do Pará.

Forms of violence against women and girls include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual violence and rape
  • Stalking and harassment
  • Trafficking
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • Child and forced marriage
  • Forced prostitution
  • ‘Honour’ crimes
  • Intimidation and harassment at work, in education or in public


Experiences of women and girls subjected to violence can be shaped by other characteristics besides gender, including: Race and ethnicity; Religion or belief; Sexual orientation and gender identity; Disability; Age; Class; Caste; Statelessness, nationality and refugee status; HIV+ status.

What are the causes of violence against women and girls?

Violence against women and girls pervades all types of settings, including the home, in communities, on the streets, in education, at work, in nightclubs, online, in war zones and in refugee camps. The causes of continuing violence against women and girls are rooted in a long history of inequalities between men and women. The subordination of women by men is a means of control and power and often executed through acts of violence. In addition, these acts are often intensified during times of social breakdown, crisis or conflict.

What are the consequences and costs of violence against women and girls?

Violence against women and girls has long-lasting physical, emotional and psychological effects – all limiting their ability to fulfil their potential and live in dignity.

The World Bank estimates that violence against women and girls costs countries up to 3.7% of their Gross Domestic Product which equates to billions of dollars. This is considerably more than double what most governments spend on education (Source World Bank). These direct and indirect costs are related to health and support services, legal justice and policing, child and welfare support, as well as loss of income and missed employment opportunities.

Women and girls who have experienced violence are more likely to be stigmatised, facing social exclusion by their families and communities. This adds a further burden and creates barriers to women and girls living a full life – free from fear of violence.

How can men and boys help tackle VAWG

Men can be powerful advocates against violence against women and girls. Men are increasingly more visible in national and local campaigns and discussions as advocates for ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

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