New Data Show Intimate Partner Violence Affects More than 1 in 4 Women


The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has called for an end to violence against women in its Sustainable Development Goals.

New Data Show Intimate Partner Violence Affects More than 1 in 4 Women

Lynnmarie Sardinha, PhD

Over 1 in 4 women have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime, with 1 in 7 women having experienced it within the 12 months prior to the survey, according to data acquired from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Database. The surveys, conducted between 2000-2018, indicated a need to strengthen the public health response in post-COVID-19 reconstruction efforts.

In reality, the prevelance of this violence is likely much higher. Since the estimates in the study are made from self-reported experiences, and the nature of the issue is sensitive with victims of intimate partner violence still facing stigma, the reported numbers may be conservative.

The research was led by Lynnmarie Sardinha, PhD, from the UNDP-UNFPA-UNICEF-WHO-World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research, WHO.

It included internationally comparable estimates of the prevalence of sexual and/or physical violence against women by a male intimate partner, making it the largest study of its kind. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has called for an end to violence against women in its Sustainable Development Goals.

The Pervasiveness of IPV

Intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, of an ever-partnered woman, refers to physically, sexually, and psychologically harmful behaviors in the context of marriage, cohabitation, or any other form of union with a long-term sexual partner, according to the study.

The effects of intimate partner violence on the victim can have major short and long-term impacts on their physical and mental health. The concern is furthered by evidence that suggests this violence starts as early as age 15.

Of women aged 15-19, 24% reported having experienced this type of violence at least once. For women aged 15-49, 27% report having experienced IPV in their lifetime with 13% experiencing it in the past year.

“The high number of young women experiencing intimate partner violence is alarming, as adolescence and early adulthood are important life stages when the foundations for healthy relationships are built," Sardinha said in a statement. "The violence these young women experience has long-lasting impacts on their health and well-being. Intimate partner violence is preventable and more needs to be done to develop and invest in effective community and school-based interventions that promote gender equality and reduce young women’s risk of being subjected to violence from a partner.”

The Impact Beyond the Individual

In addition to the cost to the individual, intimate partner violence has a substantial social and economic cost on governments and communities. As a result of the lockdown measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, the burdens of this issue have been further exacerbated, according to investigators.

To better monitor, and ultimately support, countries' progress on the levels of national, regional, and global levels of this violence, investigators urged the strengthening, standardizing, and building the capacity to collect data from this population.

Furthermore, they recommended that governments invest in surveys dedicated to evaluating the rate of violence against women or comprehensive modules that feature specially trained interviewers and adherence to ethical and safety standards to better estimate the magitude of violence against women.

In order to improve these estimates that are crucial to developing effective prevention policies and programs, data collection is necessary to better understand the multiple forms of discrimination these women face.

Specifically, women within populations that there are currently few data on, like, those living with disabilities, indigenous and minority ethnic or migrant women, transgender women, and women in same-sex partnerships.

What this analysis has uncovered is that currently, governments are not prepared to meet the target of eradicating this violence against women. Accoreding to Claudia García-Moreno, MD, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research, WHO, the progress that's been made in the last 20 years is not enough to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN by 2030.

“Intimate partner violence affects the lives of millions of women, children, families and societies worldwide," García-Moreno said in a statement. "Although this study took place before the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers are alarming and research has shown the pandemic exacerbated issues leading to intimate partner violence such as isolation, depression and anxiety, and alcohol use, as well as reducing access to support services."

"Preventing intimate partner violence from happening in the first place is vital and urgent," she continued. "Governments, societies and communities need to take heed, invest more, and act with urgency to reduce violence against women, including by addressing it in post-COVID reconstruction efforts.”

The study "Global, regional, and national prevalence estimates of physical or sexual abuse, or both, intimate partner violence against women in 2018" was published in The Lancet.

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