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Last update: Jan 2013

World Fit For Children Goal
Protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence

The challenge and progress

Violence against women, sometimes referred to as gender-based violence, is a violation of women’s basic human rights, as enshrined in several international documents including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

 

Article 1 of the Declaration defines ‘violence against women’ as: “…any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” The Declaration goes on to explicitly state that violence against women is understood to encompass any violence that may occur either in the home or in the community. Violence against women occurs in both developed and developing countries alike and across all socio-economic, cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds.        

 

Domestic (or intimate partner) violence can take many forms including physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse and may also involve neglect, deprivation or, in the most severe cases, death. Women may experience domestic violence perpetrated by either a spouse or by a romantic or cohabiting partner. Ending a relationship, separation and divorce do not necessarily end the abuse, and many women continue to experience violence at the hands of ex-spouses or former partners. The health and psychological well-being of victims of domestic violence is often severely, and sometimes permanently, compromised. Children who are exposed to, or witness, domestic violence between parents (or between a parent and a partner) may also experience negative consequences with regard to health, nutrition, education and psychological/mental well-being. Exposure to domestic violence may also impact children’s abilities to form and maintain healthy intimate relationships in the future, as they may come to view violence as a normal or even acceptable way of interacting with an intimate partner or as an appropriate method for resolving conflicts.      

  
In the context of gender inequality, women’s response to abuse reflects the relatively few options they have, or perceive they have, to change or leave the relationship and their assessment of how best to protect themselves and their children. Although not a direct measure of the prevalence of domestic violence, examining women’s (and men’s) attitudes towards wife-beating is an indication of the degree of social acceptance of such practices when women and girls have a lower status in society and certain expected gender roles are not fulfilled. Social norms or attitudes that condone or excuse domestic violence may place women at greater risk of becoming victims. Supportive attitudes, however, should not necessarily be interpreted as a measure of approval of wife-beating, nor should such attitudes imply that a woman or girl will inevitably become a victim of wife-beating.

          
UNICEF’s global database currently contains data from 83 countries on women’s attitudes towards wife-beating and data on men’s attitudes towards wife-beating, where available.
   

Almost half of women aged 15–49 years in developing countries think that a husband is justified in hitting/beating his wife under certain circumstances
Percentage of women aged 15–49 years who think that a husband/partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife/partner under certain circumstances,* by region

                  

Note: Estimates based on a subset of 90 countries covering 58% of the population of women aged 15-49 in the world (excluding China, for which comparable data are not available in UNICEF global databases). Regional estimates represent data from countries covering at least 50% of the regional population. Data coverage was insufficient to calculate a regional estimates for Latin America and the Caribbean. * Women were asked whether they think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under a series of circumstances, i.e., if his wife burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children or refuses sexual relations.
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2012. Based on DHS, MICS and other national surveys, 2002-2011.

 

Adolescent girls are as likely to justify wife-beating as older women
Percentage of girls and women aged 15–49 years who think that a husband is justified in hitting/beating his wife under certain circumstances,* by age group

                
Note: Estimates based on a subset of 90 countries covering 58% of the population of women aged 15-49 in the world (excluding China, for which comparable data are not available in UNICEFglobal databases). *Women were asked whether they think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under a series of circumstances, i.e., if his wife burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children or refuses sexual relations.
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2012. Based on DHS, MICS and other national surveys, 2002-2011.

 

Supportive attitudes towards wife-beating are also widespread among adolescent boys
Percentage of adolescent boys aged 15–19 who think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances,* in selected countries with available data

                 
Note: *Men were asked whether a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under a series of circumstances, i.e., if his wife burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children or refuses sexual relations.
+Data differ from the standard definition
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2012. Based on DHS and other national surveys, 2002-2011.