Gender, women and health

Violence against women by intimate partners


The main focus of the WHO Study was violence against women by male intimate partners. This included physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse and controlling behaviours by current partners or ex-partners, and covered both the current situation of the women interviewed and their lifetime experience. This report concentrates mainly on women’s reports of physical and sexual violence, particularly when assessing the associations with health consequences, because of the difficulty of quantifying emotional abuse consistently across cultures.

The results indicate that violence by a male intimate partner (also called “domestic violence”) is widespread in all of the countries covered by the Study. However, there was a great deal of variation from country to country, and from setting to setting within the same country. Whereas there was variation by age, by marital status and by educational status, these sociodemographic factors did not account for the differences found between settings. The wide variation in prevalence rates signals that this violence is not inevitable.

The proportion of ever-partnered women who had ever experienced physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner in their lifetime, ranged from 15% to 71%, with most sites falling between 29% and 62%. Women in Japan were the least likely to have ever experienced physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner, while the greatest amount of violence was reported by women living in provincial (for the most part rural) settings in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru, and the United Republic of Tanzania. Yet even in Japan, about 15% of ever-partnered women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, or both, at some time in their lives. For partner violence in the past year, the figures ranged from 4% in Japan and Serbia and Montenegro to 54% in Ethiopia.