Violence against women: Breaking the silence

25 Nov 2010


Marily lost her legs in a terrorist attack in Medellin, Colombia.
Despite this event she takes care of her 3 children.Violence
against women during or after armed conflicts has been reported
in every war zone.

(Foto: UNDP/Hector Hernan Vanegas Ochoa)
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25th, is a powerful reminder that in every continent, in every country, at least one out of three women has been either physically or sexually abused at some time in her life. Globally, 20 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys experience sexual abuse as children and 20 percent to 50 percent of women indicate that their first sexual experience was forced.  Behind closed doors or in armed conflict, violence against women is an ongoing and cruel violation of human rights that also thwarts human development.

“Too often women have to suffer in silence, ashamed and afraid to seek justice,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “Too often they are subject to sexual violence as a method of war, and too often impunity prevails and crimes go unpunished. Too often women are treated only as victims, and not recognized as and supported to be the important agents of change that they are.”

Despite the progress that has been made in achieving gender equality worldwide, statistics on violence against women indicate that more remains to be done:

  • Half of all women who are murdered are killed by their current or former partners.
  • Young women are particularly vulnerable to coerced sex; over half of new HIV infections worldwide are occurring among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and more than 60 percent of these are women.
  • Countries also incur costs as a result of violence against women, including high health care costs; law enforcement costs; welfare payments; social welfare services; counseling; judicial operating costs; and indirect costs including loss of productivity from women’s paid and unpaid work.
  • Violence against women during or after armed conflicts has been reported in every war zone.


Breaking Through

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  The resolution reaffirmed the crucial role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction.

In a number of countries—including 25 crisis-affected states—UNDP works with governments and civil society to tackle violence against women, advancing prevention, assistance, justice and reparation. For example:

In Sierra Leone, UNDP conducted awareness-raising sessions in 47 communities on laws to improve gender equality, prevent and address violence against women and harmful traditional practices. As a result of improved mechanisms to report cases of sexual and gender-based violence, implementing partners received more than 900 cases between January 2009 and October 2010. These cases were followed up by the Sierra Leone Police Family Support Units, created to investigate cases of violence against women and children, also engaging in community education and sensitization through radio and television programmes. Of the received cases, 88 have been charged to courts with 18 convictions secured.

In Somalia, UNDP supported the Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Somaliland, as a pilot ‘one-stop’ location where survivors of gender-based violence can receive medical care and counseling. With the Centre, survivors can now report cases of assault to the police for investigation and can gain access to free legal advice and representation. In 2009, the Centre addressed 129 cases involving sexual violence against women and men; 47 were survivors under the age of 15 (19 of these were male).
In Nepal, UNDP supported the establishment of legal aid desks, which in the first half of 2010 contributed to an increase of the number of survivors (462) reporting cases of gender-based violence, and an increase in the number of survivors (136) receiving legal aid.

Take Action

Around the world, women and men, boys and girls are raising awareness about violence against women.

  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls in all parts of the world. More than 880,000 actions have already been taken to date. Join the movement!
  • Worldwide, nearly 50 percent of all sexual assaults are against girls 15 years or younger. Join the UN Foundation to make a difference. Girl Up, a “for girls, by girls” campaign is mobilizing girls in the US to improve the lives of their peers in developing countries.
  • This year marks the 20th 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, an awareness raising initiative that engages governmental, civil society and international organizations all over the world.

Helen Clark Statement The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women


Learn More
UNDP and women’s empowerment
UNDP: Addressing women’s issues in crisis
UN Women