What is VAW?

The United Nations defines violence against women 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.” In the Network we use the term violence against women to “underscore what each of the abuses has in common, namely its grounding in the fundamental devaluation of women and girls” (Heise 2011).

Violence against women is a gross violation of human rights and a grave public health concern that takes many different forms across all stages of the life cycle of girls and women, including:

  • Pre-birth (e.g. prenatal sex selection)
  • Infancy (e.g. female infanticide, neglect)
  • Childhood (e.g. FGM, child abuse, denial of opportunities to girl children)
  • Adolescence (e.g. forced prostitution, rape, trafficking, early marriage, sexual exploitation)
  • Reproductive Age (e.g. sexual assault, trafficking, intimate partner violence, killing in the name of honor, homicide/ femicide, sexual harassment, lack of freedom of movement and control of finances)
  • Elderly (e.g. widow abuse, elder abuse)

VAW has severe consequences that can be physical, sexual, emotional, or economic (e.g. HIV/AIDS, general ill health, death, child abuse, trauma, low self-esteem, economic decline etc.). It denies women, their families, communities and societies the opportunity to reach their full potential.

A rights-based analysis of violence against women seeks to understand and address the core driver of VAW, i.e. a power imbalance between men and women. Using a rights-based analysis, we recognize that violence against women is a systemic problem embedded within patriarchal structures, rather than a random collection of individual incidents.  We understand violence against women as an injustice. We see both the cause and solution to the problem as rooted in power.