Among all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most pervasive. Evidence shows that across the globe at least one in every three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends or partners. This prevalence varies by region, with estimates ranging from 21 percent in North America, 29 percent in Europe and Central Asia, 33 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, to 43 percent in South Asia.
These regional averages mask important variations among and within countries, where women’s risk of IPV depends on an array of social and demographic factors. These data also exclude the highly common, but under-documented, acts of emotional and economic violence women experience from their partners. Impeded by a host of gendered social and structural barriers, the vast majority of women who experience IPV never seek assistance from justice, health or social service providers or tell anyone close to them about this violence. This means that the figures above are dramatic underestimates of the true magnitude of the prevalence of IPV worldwide.
IPV violates the fundamental rights of those who experience it, and also incurs significant costs for individual survivors, their communities and societies. Recent estimates suggest that IPV alone may cost countries as much as 3.7 percent of annual gross domestic product.
But while IPV is experienced by women and men worldwide, it is not inevitable and numerous recent studies have shown effective pathways for prevention. At the core of successful prevention efforts is addressing the underlying gender norms and family dynamics that perpetuate acceptance and perpetration of IPV. Laws can be effective tools for preventing violence, and countries in every region are increasingly criminalizing physical and sexual violence within relationships. Over the past 40 years, the number of countries with laws against domestic violence has increased from just one to over 100. Yet, still too few governments recognize marital rape or other types of coerced and forced sex within intimate relationships. Even where such laws do exist, they often fail to deliver justice for survivors or to treat IPV with the gravity it deserves as a crime.
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Much of ICRW’s research on violence against women and girls (VAWG) over the past 40 years has focused on intimate partner violence (IPV). ICRW researchers have contributed to important findings about the risk and protective factors that influence the prevalence of IPV, barriers to survivors seeking help, stigmatization of survivors, the link between conflict and IPV, the consequences of IPV and the costs at individual and broader levels. Finally, ICRW has broken ground examining the deprivation of women’s land and property rights as a social practice that is also a common form of violence exercised by husbands against their wives.
All of this work has highlighted the influence of social expectations for men’s behavior in perpetuating IPV, and has provided evidence on what works to promote more gender equitable attitudes and behaviors.
While there is an increasing commitment by the global community to document and address IPV and other forms of VAWG, much of the work focuses narrowly on heterosexual women of reproductive age. ICRW continues to lead the field in filling some of these important gaps, including by synthesizing and generating new evidence on IPV faced by older women, sexual and gender minority women and women living in displacement as a result of conflict, disasters or other sources of fragility. Our current work also focuses on whether and how women’s earnings outside the home affect decision-making and relationship dynamics within the home.
ICRW is exploring solutions to the many barriers that keep women from seeking help, including gaps in access and quality of available essential services. We are investigating formal and informal justice mechanisms and how well they serve the needs of survivors. And we continue to use qualitative and quantitative work to estimate the direct costs as well as the social and economic impacts of IPV to countries worldwide.
ICRW collaborates with research and implementation partners across the globe to conduct research and policy analysis on what works to prevent and respond to IPV. This work includes formative and pilot studies to inform the development of interventions, evaluating programs’ effectiveness in changing attitudes and behaviors linked to IPV and assessing service delivery for survivors. Across this work, our focus is on distilling lessons on what’s effective to identify elements of success that can be applied to other programs and policies. This includes documenting what it means to effectively engage men and boys, mobilize communities and improve essential services for the millions of survivors of IPV across the globe.