VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES
Violence affects millions of women all over the world. It affects women from all
cultures, religions, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
Female-targeted violence was acknowledged in December 1993 when the UN
General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence
against Women. At the Beijing Conference (September 1995) Governments
declared that “violence against women constitutes a violation of basic human
rights and is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality,
development and peace”1
Why should violence against women be distinguished from other forms of
violence? Because it has a global magnitude and it is based on sex inequality.
Violence against women is sometimes a mechanism for subordination or
sometimes women’s unequal status favours their vulnerability to violence.
Violence against women usually takes place over long lasting periods and is
often perpetrated by people who might live or interact regularly with them.
The most common forms of violence against women are:
1. Domestic violence: is carried out by a husband or partner. It includes
physical and sexual violence, usually accompanied by psychological
abuse. It’s estimated that from 10% to 50% of women have suffered this
kind of violence.2
2. Rape and sexual coercion: forced sex is mainly perpetrated by partners,
male family members, individuals in positions of authority (teachers,
priests, policemen, etc.). It involves both physical and non-physical
pressure (e.g. blackmail). In the United States, a woman is raped every
3. Sexual abuse of girls: child sexual abuse is a practice that usually
extends over time and is usually perpetrated by a father or another male
family member as well as family friends, religious leaders, teachers and
childcare workers. Child abuse is more relevant in girls and to a lesser
degree in boys (7% to 36% for girls, and 3% to 29% for boys)4
abuse includes rape, pornography, sexual touching or forcing a child to
touch others, etc.).
4. Prostitution and trafficking: the trafficking of women and girls for
prostitution, sexual exploitation and forced labour is becoming a highly
profitable activity. “(…) War, displacement and economic and social
inequities between and within countries, and the demand for low-wage
labour and sex work drive this illicit trade in women (…)”5
. Women from
Asia, Central and Eastern Asia and the former Soviet Union mainly are
trafficked every year across international borders (from 700 000 to 2
. They are forced by physical and sexual violence as well as by
confiscating vital documents such as passports.
5. Rape in war: Rape has traditionally been used as a strategy to
undermine the morale of a community. In 2002 the International Criminal
Tribunal in The Hague condemned this violence as a crime against
humanity. Violence against refugee and displaced women is also
6. Traditional practices: in many countries there are traditions that violate
women’s human rights. Some of these practices include female genital
mutilation (every year an estimated 2 million young girls undergo this
, sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and deliberate
neglect of girls.
Women who have suffered any kind of violence have long-lasting physical
(headache, back pain, etc) and psychological symptoms (depression, thoughts
of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, etc). But this kind of violence also affects
the families and the friends of these women. Children who witness or suffer any
of these kinds of violence show higher levels of aggressive behaviour and suffer
it to a greater extent. There is also a high economic price in medical costs and
work productivity as well as in criminal justice.
What should countries do? Some countries are developing laws related to
violence against women together with an educational change. Changing
people’s attitude towards violence is a long term objective, but it is a
fundamental step to protect women’s human rights.