Violence against women — perpetrated mostly by men — is one of the biggest violations of human rights and a major impediment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
One in three women have experienced it at some point in their lives. And some, even before. The economist Amartya Sen has estimated in 1990 that that more than 100 million women are ‘missing’ — that includes those that never lived because of sex-selective abortions and infanticide, child neglect and maltreatment. That number was revised in 2015 to 136 million.
The effects of widespread violence hurt more than just the people involved. They damage economies and families as well as the peace and prosperity of nations.
However, we can change this stark reality. Violence against women and girls is preventable if we address the risk factors and underlying harmful social norms that perpetuate and excuse violence and hold perpetrators accountable.
SDG 1 No poverty
More women than men live in poverty, especially during their peak childbearing years. Women and girls are four percent MORE LIKELY than men and boys to live in extreme poverty, and the risk rises to 25 percent for women aged 25 to 34. Living in poverty increases the risk of violence to women and girls. Women and children may be forced into unsafe living conditions and a have lack of other options. Society as a whole becomes impoverished by gender-based violence. Research indicates that the cost could amount annually to around two percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). This is equivalent to US$1.5 trillion — about the size of the economy of Canada.
SDG 2 Zero hunger
Unequal power relations and gendered violence in households render women more vulnerable to food insecurity. In 2018 women had a 10 percent higher risk of experiencing food insecurity than men.
Food insecurity can trigger gendered violence. For example, child marriage can increase as families struggle to cope with food insecurity.
SDG 3 Good health and well-being
The health consequences of violence against women and girls extend to their children, who may witness the abuse and suffer long-term trauma that affect their physical, emotional and social development.
In the 30 countries where female genital mutilation is practiced, one in three girls aged 15 to 19 had been subjected to this harmful practice in 2017.
SDG 4 Quality education
An estimated 246 million girls and boys experience school-related violence every year and one in four girls say that they never feel comfortable using school latrines, according to a survey on youth conducted across four regions.
SDG 5 Gender equality
‘Stranger danger’ is largely a myth. Between 38–50 percent of murders of women are committed by intimate partners. More than 137 women are killed by someone in their family every day.
Discrimination against women in terms of lack of land, property and inheritance, credit, technology and banking, and the lack of decent work, violates women’s human rights and leave them vulnerable to extreme poverty and gender-based violence in all countries.
SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation
UN Women estimates that women and girls fetch water in 80 percent of households that don’t have it onsite. This means risking their safety travelling long distances.
Women and girls can face harassment when going to the toilet and may wait till the cover of darkness, which adds extra layers of danger.
Where there are no toilets, women and girls may defecate in the open and may face sexual harassment and indignity from the lack of privacy. An estimated 446 million women have no choice but to defecate in the open.
SDG 7 Affordable and clean energy
If a family doesn’t have firewood, it is usually girls who fetch it. This means risking their safety travelling long distances.
Girls and women who live in cities also benefit from reliable lighting as it makes them safer if they have to go out at night.
Clean cook stoves and solar energy can lead to many wider benefits, including lower rates of domestic violence and greater parity in the workplace.
Girls in households that use solid fuels for cooking spend 18 hours a week on average gathering fuel, compared to five hours a week in households using clean fuels. Fuel collection increases a girl’s risk of injury, animal attacks and physical and sexual violence and impinges on girls’ education and leisure time.
SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth
The workplace can be just as dangerous for women as the home.
UN Women estimates that the economic costs of violence and harassment at US$12 trillion every year.
As of 2018, 59 countries do not have laws protecting women from sexual harassment in the workplace.
More than 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men, and in 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.
SDG 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
In Europe one in ten women have been harassed online. Whether its sexually explicit and unsolicited emails or offensive remarks on social networking sites, digital technology has made it easier and more widespread than ever.
The ‘digital divide’ is also bigger for women than men and in some contexts may be aggravated by gendered violence. Of the 3.9 billion people who don’t have the benefits of being online, most are likely to be less educated women and girls.
SDG 10 Reduced inequalities
Research found that in nine of the 10 fragile countries have the highest rates of child marriage.
SDG 11 Sustainable cities and communities
People are drawn to cities for jobs, innovation, culture, science and other opportunities. For women they can also be places of danger. Whether it’s catcalling, harassment, unwanted touching or rape sexual harassment in public states is only beginning to be addressed.
UN estimates that by 2030 five billion people will live in cities by 2030. They must be made safe for women, which will have positive benefits in terms of their health and well-being, their freedom to move around and to participate fully in all the benefits of urban life.
SDG 12 Responsible consumption and production
Women are over represented in informal and unregulated businesses, which means they may be exposed to exploitation.
Garment workers suffer from sexual and verbal harassment, low wages, long work hours, a lack of union protection and often do their jobs in a state of fear or uncertainty.
SDG 13 Climate action
Leaving home creates extra peril for women as they usually end up in unsafe conditions in camps or informal settlements.
When migrating from areas hard hit by natural disasters and climate change, women and girls are more likely to experience gender-based violence, including assault and rape.
At least one in five refugee or displaced women experience sexual violence and nine out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in fragile contexts.
SDG 14 Life below water
Women suffer more than men from the insidious widespread effects of overfishing, including labour abuses and lack of resources to buy the more expensive equipment needed to go farther out to sea.
They often work very harsh and dangerous conditions and must also deal with harassment and other forms of abuse.
SDG 15 Life on land
Gendered violence can seriously affect mental and physical health and well-being, making women unable to fulfill their social, economic and political rights.
SDG 16 Peace justice and strong institutions
UNDP supports national partners to develop laws to combat sexual and gender-based violence. This includes improving access to justice for survivors, ending impunity for perpetrators and providing survivors with the support and care they need. We support women as they advocate for both their communities’ and their own rights.
In 37 countries rape perpetrators are exempt from prosecution if they are married to, or subsequently marry the victim.
There is much work to be done. At least 144 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 154 have laws on sexual harassment. However this does not mean they are always compliant with international standards or are acted upon.
SDG 17 Partnerships for the goals
Violence against women is a huge impediment to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and requires action on all fronts, from everybody. To this end UNDP works with sister UN agencies, national governments, public institutions, women’s rights groups and traditional, community and religious leaders, and we are a key partner in The Spotlight Initiative.