Gender, women and health

Addressing violence against women and achieving the Millennium Development Goals

Women, development and violence


It is estimated that one in every five women faces some form of violence during her lifetime, in some cases leading to serious injury or death. Until recently, most governments have considered violence against women (particularly “domestic” violence by a husband or other intimate partner) to be a relatively minor social problem. Today, due in large part to the efforts of women’s organizations and the evidence provided by research, including that of WHO, violence against women is recognized as a global concern. One of the most pervasive violations of human rights in all societies, it exists on a continuum from violence perpetrated by an intimate partner to violence as a weapon of war (1).

Violence against women is a major threat to social and economic development. This was recognized in the Millennium Declaration of September 2000, in which the General Assembly of the United Nations resolved “to combat all forms of violence against women and to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (2). Such violence is intimately associated with complex social conditions such as poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, child mortality, maternal ill-health and human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS). Although some of the associated conditions of violence are targeted in the goals set up to guide the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, violence against women is not highlighted in either the targets or the indicators.

What do we mean by violence against women?

Violence against women takes many forms, from the overt to the subtle. WHO has adopted the following definitions of physical and sexual violence to aid in research and programming, concentrating on identifiable acts.

Physical violence means a woman has been: slapped, or had something thrown at her; pushed, shoved, or had her hair pulled; hit with a fist or something else that could hurt; choked or burnt; threatened with or had a weapon used against her.

Sexual violence means a woman has been: physically forced to have sexual intercourse; had sexual intercourse because she was afraid of what her partner might do; or forced to do something sexual she found degrading or humiliating. Though recognized as a serious and pervasive problem,

Emotional violence does not yet have a widely accepted definition, but includes, for e xample, being humiliated or belittled; being scared or intimidated purposefully.

Intimate-partner violence (also called “domestic” violence) means a woman has encountered any of the above types of violence, at the hands of an intimate partner or ex-partner; this is one of the most common and universal forms of violence experienced by women (for a broader discussion see (3)).

What are the MDGs?

The MDGs are currently the highest-level expression of the international community's development priorities. They commit the international community to an action agenda which emphasizes sustainable, human development as the key to fulfilling social and economic progress. All 191 Member States of the United Nations have pledged to achieve these goals by the year 2015 1.

The Goals and their targets and indicators have been widely accepted as a framework for measuring national and global development progress 2.

1 For more on the Millenium Goals, see:

2 About the Goals, see: