Around the world, as many as one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way – most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member; one woman in four has been abused during pregnancy.
One in 3 or 33% of women… As i type this, there are 7,058,408,172 (02:40 UTC (EST+5) Dec 14, 2012) people on Earth. According to WorldBank statistics, 49.6% of that population is female: 3,500,970 women. A third of that is 1,166,990, or roughly one billion.
You might be rolling your eyes now and wondering what my problem is: The data make sense! Well, except… There is another violence against women statistic that i’ve seen: 7 out of 10. That, too, is a UN statistic:
Available data show that up to 7 in 10 women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their life time; and up to 50 percent of sexual assaults were committed against girls under 16.
Seven in 10 or 70% of women. That’s not semantics because if we calculate this out that’s 2,450,679 women or almost 2.5 billion! More than twice than the other number… Sadly, this number seems more realistic to me, though i don’t have much to go on other than a hunch based on the amount of women who came out to me as survivors when i mentioned i had experienced it. And that isn’t statistics! So, let’s find the underlying data…
The UN Statistics Division concurs that it’s important to know what’s behind a statistic:
Comparability of statistics on violence against women is one of the major requirements for providing an accurate quantification of this phenomenon across time, nations, regions and the world. Violence experienced by women takes many different forms, and it is necessary to classify them into sets of indicators to create a common statistical instrument that should be applied in data collection exercises.
In other words: If we don’t define what we’re measuring, we don’t know if we’re solving any problem. Unfortunately, that same report doesn’t provide worldwide statistics.
I spent about an hour trying to find the source of these two statistics – the data behind them – and haven’t been able to find anything. The UN database doesn’t have anything under “violence.” Neither does the United Nations Gender Statistics database, GenderInfo.
Instead of continuing to search, i sent a message to UN Women, the source of two cites above (yes, i did find the 1 in 3 on the same website as the 7 in 10 published a few days apart). Let’s see if they’ll respond… (And, btw, i am not the only one scratching my head over this… V-day found that some statistics seem to conflict one another, even more reason for knowing how the statistic was calculated…)
In the meantime, let’s take a look at the data that is available from “The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics.” First some definitions:
Physical violence consists of acts aimed at hurting the victim and include, but are not limited, to pushing, grabbing, twisting the arm, pulling the hair, slap- ping, kicking, biting or hitting with the fist or an object, to trying to strangle or suffocate, burning or scalding on purpose and attacking with some sort of weapon, a gun or knife.
The term “sexual violence”, broadly interpreted, may include aggressive and abusive behaviours of different intensity and consequences, from unwanted touching to forced intercourse and rape.
The proportion of women experiencing physical violence ranges from slightly over 10% to almost 60% across the 25 countries included in the report. The proportion of women experiencing some form of sexual violence ranges from slightly below 5% to almost 45% across the 14 countries included. These are huge differences! I wonder if a lot of the variation is more due to reporting – and the shame around it – than less violence against women. The data come from surveys or court reports, neither of which would capture the full extend of violence against women.
Ultimately, we will probably never know how many women have experienced violence specifically directed against them because they are women. What we do know is that way too many of us have experienced it: One-third to two-thirds!
(1) Through a press release by the World Health Organization, i found a reference to the United Nations General Assembly. In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. New York, United Nations, 2006. Unfortunately, i cannot access the full report. I did find this nugget in a background note on “Forms, consequences and costs of violence against women” (my emphasis)
The most common form of violence experienced by women globally is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner. On average, at least one in three women is subjected to intimate partner violence in the course of their lifetimes.
Maybe the 1 in 3 number stems from this report – and does not include sexual violence, nor violence by non-partners. Though it seems unlikely (given that this is the “most common form”) that we’re missing more than half…
(2) Another WHO report also shows the wide variation across countries of VAW:
Population-based studies from various countries indicate that 10–69% of women aged 15–49 years experience physical abuse by a male intimate partner at least once in their lifetime