Violence against women


Violence against women is prevalent in and across the Region. The health sector can help through a comprehensive involvement in violence prevention and victim services and support.

There are an estimated 5400 homicides against women aged 15-49 in the WHO European Region. Estimates suggest that about 2 out of 5 of these murders are committed by a current or ex-intimate partner. Death rates are higher in low- and middle income countries. The prevalence of non-fatal violence is much higher and it is estimated that 1 in 4 women in the European Region will experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in her life. Estimates based on surveys in Europe suggest that 49 million women in the region have experienced violence.

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 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” (The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, December 1993).

Surveys from countries as diverse as Albania, France, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Tajikistan and the United Kingdom suggest that 10-60% of women have been assaulted by an intimate partner at some time in their lives. Violence against women is underestimated in police statistics, since surveys suggest that only 1 in 7 women being abused report this to the authorities. The health sector can help reducing diseases and human suffering through a comprehensive involvement in violence prevention and victim services and support that is based on a public health approach. WHO has produced guidance for such programmes.

This approach would reduce the burden of violence and ensure that women and children’s rights to healthy life free of violence are protected.