Covid-19 has exacerbated violence against women around the world, and shocking new data from the World Health Organization revealed 1 in 3 women have been victims of physical or sexual violence. That’s roughly 736 million women worldwide.
Described to be the largest study ever of its kind, the report amassed data from millions of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 from more than 160 countries. The data, which was called “devastatingly pervasive” by the international organization, does not actually reveal the impact on violence against women due to the Covid-19 pandemic since it only covers 2000 through 2018.
It’s thought that the Covid-19 pandemic may be worsening intimate partner violence as lockdown situations have increased women’s exposure due to disruptions from vital support systems. Cases of domestic violence increased by 8.1% in the U.S. after lockdown orders were issued, according to a report released in February by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. The pandemic’s full impact on violence against women may not be realized for years.
“We know that the multiple impacts of COVID-19 have triggered a ‘shadow pandemic’ of increased reported violence of all kinds against women and girls,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director. “Every government should be taking strong, proactive steps to address this, and involving women in doing so.”
Intimate partner violence impacts 641 million women across the globe, making it the most prevalent type of violence, the report noted. And younger women tend to get the worst of it, with 16% of women between 16 and 24 in the surveys who had been in a relationship reporting intimate partner violence in the last 12 months.
Roughly 6% of women report being sexually assaulted by someone other than their husband or partner, although the number may be higher because sexual assault taboos can often cause incidences to be underreported in some countries. A large stigma around violence also exists, and violence can have a long-lasting and devastating impact on women’s lives, from “increased risk of injuries, depression, anxiety disorders, unplanned pregnancies, sexually-transmitted infections including HIV and many other health problems,” WHO said.
Reducing inequities and social stigmas are just one step in improving violence against women, as are education and safe workplaces, intervention strategies with essential services and changing gender norms and institutions.
“To address violence against women, there’s an urgent need to reduce stigma around this issue, train health professionals to interview survivors with compassion, and dismantle the foundations of gender inequality,” Claudia Garcia-Moreno, MD, of the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at the WHO, said in a statement.
See the WHO update here.