Global epidemic of violence against women

‘France’s shame’: In Paris, this weekend, thousands protested against the spate of killings. © AFP

Can gender-based violence ever be stopped? Latest figures show that one in three women and girls experience physical or sexual attacks in their lifetime, most often committed by an intimate partner.

On 1 September, a resident of Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France spotted a foot sticking out from a pile of rubbish, branches and an old quilt. It was the disfigured body of a woman, the victim of a brutal attack. Her partner denies her murder.

These chilling words from a BBC news report earlier this year electrified a long-buried debate.

Within hours, the French government announced a raft of measures to protect women from domestic violence.

Results, so far, are disappointing. This weekend, tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Paris to demand a national wake-up call and more government investment to prevent a problem that President Emmanuel Macron calls “France’s shame”.

A wave of purple flags and signs snaked from the Place de l’Opera through eastern Paris amid an unprecedented public campaign to honour the 130 women that activists say have been killed in France this year by a current or former partner. That’s about one every two or three days.

While France has a progressive reputation and pushes for women’s rights around the world, it has among the highest rates in Europe of domestic violence, in part because of poor police response to reports of abuse. Many of the women killed this year had previously sought help.

Homicides by intimate partners are overwhelmingly committed by men against women. According to the most recent figures of such murders, the French rate is far from the highest in the EU.

“Violence against women is an issue that transcends borders, class and socio-economic status. It impacts women and girls in all societies,” says Viviana Waisman from Women's Link Worldwide. “There may be more or less stigma about talking about it in certain societies. but it is present in all societies.”

One in two women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2017, according to the United Nations, while only one out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances.

In fact, violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.

Worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday; 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation.

“Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. It remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it,” says the UN.

So, can gender-based violence ever be stopped?


Not until we get rid of gender inequality, say some. Politics, religion, media and the workplace give the message that is it natural for men to have more power than women. In this context, the false belief that men have a right to control women — even violently — is common. In addition to sexism, there are many other forms of social inequality that compound abuse and violence, including racism, homophobia, classism, ageism and religious persecution. The task fills one with despair.

Of course attitudes can be changed, say campaigners. Drinking and driving was once treated almost as a joke but, thanks to strong advocacy campaigns, it is no longer socially acceptable and is subject to serious criminal penalties. In the same way, public education, violence prevention programs, and a strong criminal justice response can bring an end to violence against women.

You Decide

  1. Is psychological abuse as bad as physical abuse?
  2. Should the Government and the law intervene in intimate relationships? Can they do so effectively and fairly?


  1. Find out how respectful you are in your relationships, using the NHS link in our Expert Links.
  2. Reading the UN statistics, make a poster to try and shock everyone into awareness and action.

Some People Say...

“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination. Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances.”

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The United Nations 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.”
What do we not know?
Unlike physical abuse, sometimes victims of mental abuse don’t realise it is happening. It can be all too easy to make excuses for the bad behaviour of loved ones. Psychological abuse comes in all shapes and sizes, but feelings of degradation, humiliation, worthlessness, or having your everyday movements controlled by someone, such as your phone being checked, or comments about what you’re wearing, are all symptoms of abuse.

Word Watch

Domestic violence
Violent or aggressive behaviour within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner.
Place de l’Opera
A beautiful square in the heart of Paris.
Another word for murder; the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another.
Women's Link Worldwide
A charity that promotes social change to defend the human rights of women and girls, especially those facing multiple inequalities.
The hashtag of the protestors marching in Paris this weekend. It means: “all of us”.

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