Violence against women is among the most universal and pervasive human rights violations, affecting at least a billion women across the globe. Recent estimates suggest that approximately 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partners, or non-partner sexual violence – just a few of the highly prevalent forms of violence. Violence against women takes many forms, including physical and emotional abuse, forced and unwanted sex, early and forced marriage, female genital cutting, trafficking and deprivation of resources and rights.
The problem of violence against women manifests itself in a terrifying array of forms throughout the world. The experience of violent intrusion – or the threat of such intrusion – is a common thread in the fabric of women’s everyday lives in societies around the world.
Twenty years ago, violence against women was not considered an issue worthy of international attention or concern. Victims of violence suffered in silence, with little public recognition of their plight. This began to change in the 1980s as women’s groups organized locally and internationally to demand attention to the physical, psychological, and economic abuse of women. Gradually, violence against women has come to be recognized as a legitimate human rights issue and as a significant threat to women’s health and well-being. Now that international attention is focused on gender-based violence, methodologically rigorous research is needed to guide the formulation and implementation of effective interventions, policies, and prevention strategies. Until fairly recently, the majority of research on violence consisted of anecdotal accounts or exploratory studies performed on non-representative samples of women, such as those attending services for battered women. While this research has played a critical role in bringing to light the issues of wife abuse, rape, trafficking, incest, and other manifestations of gender-based violence, it is less useful for understanding the dimensions or characteristics of abuse among the broader population. This manual has been developed in response to the growing need to improve the quality, quantity, and comparability of international data on physical and sexual abuse. It outlines some of the methodological and ethical challenges of conducting research on violence against women and describes a range of innovative techniques that have been used to address these challenges.
Violence against women is the most pervasive yet under-recognized human rights violation in the world. It is also a profound health problem that saps women’s energy, compromises their physical and mental health, and erodes their self-esteem. In addition to causing injury, violence increases women’s long-term risk of a number of other health problems, including chronic pain, physical disability, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression.1, 2 Women with a history of physical or sexual abuse are also at increased risk for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and miscarriages.3-5 Despite the high costs of violence against women, social institutions in almost every society in the world legitimize, obscure, and deny abuse. The same acts that would be punished if directed at an employer, a neighbor, or an acquaintance often go unchallenged when men direct them at women, especially within the family. For over three decades, women’s advocacy groups around the world have been working to draw more attention to the physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of women and to stimulate action. They have provided abused women with shelter, lobbied for legal reforms, and challenged the widespread attitudes and beliefs that support violence against women.2 Increasingly, these efforts are having results. Today, international institutions are speaking out against gender-based violence. Surveys and studies are collecting more information about the prevalence and nature of abuse. More organizations, service providers, and policy makers are recognizing that violence against women has serious adverse consequences for women’s health and for society. This chapter provides a brief overview of the issue of violence against women, including definitions, international prevalence, the documented health consequences of abuse, and evidence regarding causation and women’s experiences of abuse. We include this information here for individuals who may be new to the topic and/or for those who are writing research proposals and may not have easy access to the international literature.