Strengthening Health System Responses to Gender-based Violence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

A resource package

1.2. The scope of gender-based violence globally and in the EECA region

Women experience GBV in all countries and regions world-wide. Since the second half of the 1990s, there has been an increase in studies seeking to measure the scope of violence against women. These studies provide an important evidence base for laws and policies to end GBV. At the same time, gaps in the knowledge base on all forms of GBV persist. Many countries still lack reliable data on GBV and if studies exist, they are often not comparable, due to differences in methodologies used. Further, few countries collect data on GBV on a regular basis, which would enable measuring changes over time. Existing data collection and research efforts have so far mainly focused on intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child abuse and female genital mutilation, while at the same time, many forms of GBV are under-documented. This includes femicide; sexual violence in conflict; trafficking in women and girls; sexual harassment and violence in workplaces, schools and institutional settings, including health facilities, prisons and detention centres (UN Secretary-General 2006).

Prevalence studies are the only reliable method to measure the scope of GBV. Usually, prevalence research is undertaken through population-based surveys. These surveys use randomly selected samples; therefore, their results are representative of the larger population. Thus, different from administrative data from administrative records, such as shelters, police, courts or hospitals, which cover only those women who have reported the violence or accessed services, population survey data allows for accurate conclusions on the actual scope of GBV. GBV prevalence studies may either focus exclusively on one or several forms of GBV, or have a broader focus on issues such as demographic and health issues, poverty, crime or reproductive health and include questions or modules on GBV (UN Secretary-General 2006). 

A study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013 on global and regional prevalence of two forms of GBV (physical and sexual intimate partner violence as well as sexual violence committed by non-partners) [1] concludes that “[v]iolence against women is a public health problem of epidemic proportions. It pervades all corners of the globe, puts women’s health at risk, limits their participation in society, and causes great human suffering”(WHO 2013). Table 3 presents select findings from this study.

Table 3 – Global and Regional Prevalence Data on GBV – Select Findings (WHO et al, 2013)

Source: WHO et al 2013

As of February 2014, in at least 13 countries in the region of EECA, prevalence studies on intimate partner and other forms of domestic violence have been published. While these studies are not necessarily comparable due to differences in methodologies (e.g. sample size, geographical coverage, forms of violence covered, formulation and focus of questions), they clearly illustrate that there is high GBV prevalence in the EECA region. The findings of these studies which are summarized in table 4 can provide actors involved in decision making and implementing interventions with a baseline for efforts to strengthen the health system response to GBV in the region. For instance, trainers may want to use them for the purpose of tailoring capacity building activities to a given country context.

Table 4: Prevalence studies on intimate partner violence and domestic violence in the EECA region[2]


[2]The structure of this table was prepared based on examples from UN Women 2012a and WAVE 2013. The data stems from the original prevalence studies indicated in the table (in some cases, only summaries were publically available). Cells with a “–“ indicate that this aspect is not covered by the respective study. Life-time prevalence is defined differently in the different studies: Most surveys define life-time prevalence as prevalence of violence occurred after the age of 15; some take 16 or 18 years as threshold. Some surveys do not specify life-time prevalence by using age limits.

[1]The total number of countries included in IPV estimates is 81 (including 10 countries from the WHO region in Europe). Non-partner sexual violence estimates include 58 countries (including 7 countries from the WHO region in Europe).