10 Mar 2021

One in three women worldwide endure physical or sexual violence - WHO

7:55 am on 10 March 2021

Nearly one in every four New Zealand women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced domestic violence.

Domestic and Family Violence. Little Girl in Fear of Domestic Abuse.

Some 31 percent of women aged 15-49, or up to 852 million women worldwide, have experienced physical or sexual violence, the WHO said (file image). Photo: 123RF

The figures - released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) - show 23 percent of women in New Zealand are subjected to physical or sexual violence by their partner.

Nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime, pervasive criminal behaviour that has increased during the pandemic, the WHO said on Tuesday.

The UN agency urged governments to prevent violence, improve services for victims and tackle economic inequalities that often leave women and girls trapped in abusive relationships.

Boys should be taught in school about the need for mutual respect in relationships and mutual consent in sex, WHO officials said.

"Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Some 31 percent of women aged 15-49, or up to 852 million women, have experienced physical or sexual violence, the WHO said in what it called the largest-ever such study, encompassing national data and surveys from 2000-2018.

A husband or intimate partner is the most common perpetrator and a disproportionate number of victims are in the poorest countries, it said. True figures are likely far higher due to under-reporting of sexual abuse, a heavily-stigmatised crime.

"These numbers are very shocking and really are sort of a wake-up call for governments to be doing much more to prevent this violence," report author Claudia Garcia-Moreno said.

In some regions, more than half of women face violence at some point, she told Reuters, citing Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

Countries with the highest prevalence include Kiribati, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan, WHO data show.

The lowest rates are in Europe, up to 23 percent over a lifetime.

Violence started at an "alarmingly young" age, the WHO said.

One in four adolescent girls aged 15-19 who have had a relationship have been subjected to either physical or sexual violence, Garcia-Moreno said.

"This is a very important and formative time in life. And we know that the impacts of this violence can be long-lasting and can affect physical and mental health and lead to unwanted pregnancies and other complications," she said.

Where to get help:

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

The National Network of Family Violence Services NZ has information on specialist family violence agencies.

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

Empowerment Trust

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- Reuters with additional reporting by RNZ