According to the United Nations, violence against women is defined as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.“
It is estimated that one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence and one in five women are raped. 90 percent of sexual abuse victims are women, while 10 percent are men. Two-thirds of perpetrators are a relative, intimate partner or an acquaintance of the victim.
Violence against women is a complex social problem and a violation of human rights with far-reaching mental, physical, sexual and reproductive health problems. 94 percent of sexual abuse victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder while 13 percent commit suicide. Victims are twice as likely to suffer from depression and have an increased vulnerability to HIV.
144 countries have passed laws against sexual harassment, even though their implementation often fails as sexual harassment remains the least reported crime, with only 14% of victims coming forward. In eighteen countries there is no legislation: Afghanistan; Cameroon; Chad; Republic of Congo; Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Guinea; Haiti; Liberia; Mali; Mauritania; Oman; Russia; South Sudan; Swaziland; and Uzbekistan.
Certain characteristics, such as sexual orientation (non-heterosexuality), ethnicity or disabilities make women more vulnerable, as well as living in conflict or post-conflict areas. Other factors that increase the risk of suffering from sexual violence include low education, exposure to previous domestic violence and attitudes, accepting gender inequality.
In high-income countries it has been proven that educational programs effectively prevent violence, while in low-income countries social and economical empowerment of women has shown improvement.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and is a violation of human rights. It has no health benefits for girls and women, since it causes severe pain, excessive bleeding and infections, often leading to death, urination problems, complications during childbirth and an increased risk of newborn deaths as well as psychological consequences.
FGM is practiced within both Muslim and Christian communities, as well as by followers of some indigenous religions, even though it is not endorsed by any religion. It is prevailing in many African and Asian countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Chad, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, a few Eastern European and American countries such as Georgia, Russia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.
Justifications and motivations include controlling female sexuality (apparently increases likelihood of women remaining virgins until they are married), religion, social obligation, economic factors (marriage) and aesthetics.