Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is described as any act of violence directed at women and girls. In their lifetime, one in three women will be affected by sexual and/or physical violence.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women 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, UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993)
Forms of VAWG include:
- Domestic violence
- Sexual violence and rape
- Stalking and harassment
- Female genital mutilation (FGM)
- Child and forced marriage
- Forced prostitution
- ‘Honour’ crimes
- Intimidation and harassment at work, in education or in public
What are the causes of violence against women and girls?
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.
How is this linked to poverty?
Violence against women and girls is a barrier to the economic growth at an individual level, in families, communities and countries. Violence against girls in schools leads to poor performance, low attendance and high drop-out rates. In addition to the higher risk of forced pregnancy, these abuses limit opportunities for girls to achieve economic independence and participate in political and public life – without fear of violence. Impoverished conditions which limit girls’ education, access to decent work opportunities, as well as physical, mental and emotional health are one of the greatest barriers to achieving gender equality.
Despite the fact that poverty increases the chances of violence against women and girls, even when women have access to economic opportunities, healthcare, justice and education, discrimination remains present and unchallenged.
What are the 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 fulfill 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.* 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.
Does violence against women and girls happen only in areas of conflict?
No. Violence against women and girls is a global, human rights issue experienced in conflict and non-conflict environments. Where inequality exists, violence against women and girls continues.
Armed conflict does increase the risk of violence against women and girls and has increasingly become a defining characteristic of ‘modern day’ armed conflict. Violence against women and girls in conflict situations include rape, forced impregnation, forced abortion, torture, trafficking, sexual slavery – all are used as ‘weapons of war’. These all increase the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS which have long-lasting and often fatal consequences.
Using women and girls as ‘weapons of war’ is classified as a war crime and crime against humanity – however, stronger international, national and local cooperation is required to address the underlying political, economic and social issues which make it possible for these atrocities to occur in the first place.
What about violence against men and boys?
Violence against men and boys is just as much of a human rights violation as it is for girls and women – it should not be ignored. Many men and boys are subjected to different forms of violence, including physical assault and sexual abuse. Men and boys also become victims of violence in armed conflicts, gang crime, civil unrest and insurgency.
Men are more likely to experience physical assault that women and girls, however, the extent, severity and varied forms of violence women and girls experience at the hands of men is endemic, more persistent and deliberate.
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.
Isn’t violence against women and girls a cultural issue?
No. For a very long time, culture and traditional practices have been used to justify and legitimise violence against women and girls by communities and governments around the world. Some (but not all) customs and religious values have been used to promote patriarchal systems seeking to subjugate women and girls. These are in fact systems created to challenge women’s rights and gender equality for all women and girls – irrespective of their race, religion or cultural beliefs.
Nevertheless, as a result from concerted efforts between governments, non-government organizations, community-based groups, women and girls, there is growing evidence that change is taking place. The responsibility of governments to create frameworks which make violence against women and girls punishable by law and provide adequate resources and opportunities requires a long-term commitment and investment.