Violence against women and girls (VAWG) | ActionAid UK

Violence against women and girls (VAWG)

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most widespread human rights abuses, affecting on average one in three women and girls worldwide.

Gender inequality is the fundamental root cause of all forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape in conflict or harmful practices including FGM. It happens everywhere, and it is exacerbated by other aspects of women’s identity, based on class, caste, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability or migrant status.  

Violence, and the threat of violence, can hold women and girls back from accessing their full range of human rights – like getting an education, going to work, and taking part in public life. As well as being an abuse in its own right, violence holds back communities by blocking women’s and girls’ potential.

ActionAid works alongside women’s rights organisations, providing funding, training and support. We campaign to ensure governments, donors and the international community show leadership in combatting violence against women and girls. We prioritise women’s rights organisations as leaders in this struggle, and ensure that financing is available so that commitments to eradicate these practices can be fulfilled. 

Areas we focus on:

of women experience violence in their lifetimes worldwide2

women were killed in 2012 alone by family members or intimate partners3

girls worldwide have been married before the age of 184

  • 2. World Health Organisation, Violence against women, intimate partner and sexual violence against women:
  • 3. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Study on Homicide:
  • 4. Prevention of violence against women and girls: what does the evidence say?, The Lancet: ↩

Economic inequality makes women more vulnerable to violence

On virtually every measure, women are economically worse off than men.5 Economic inequality increases women’s risk of being subjected to violence. It undermines their voice and bargaining power at home, work and in wider society, making it harder to leave abusive partners or work situations.

Women who are poor, young, migrant, indigenous, from an ethnic minority, as well as domestic workers, sex workers and those who have been trafficked are most at risk.

Domestic violence is the most prevalent form of abuse suffered by women.

  • 5. ActionAid UK ‘Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work’:

Gender-based violence at work

Abuses faced by women at work range from sexual, physical and psychological harassment, bullying by managers and supervisors, body searches, beatings, forced pregnancy tests, dismissal of pregnant women and violations of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Appalling neglect of workplace safety standards, along with pressure to work long hours in toxic conditions, cause physical and psychological harm, injury and even death.

Women workers courageously seek ways to come together to challenge work-based violence and exploitation. However, they are frequently met with threats and further violence by employers.

Schoolgirls at risk of gender-based violence 

Education is a crucial route out of poverty for future generations. But the World Health Organisation estimates that 150 million girls are sexually assaulted every year, with many of these attacks occurring on the way to school or at school.1 

Violence against schoolgirls is part of gender discrimination in communities and wider society. Challenging prejudice in communities is central to stopping violence within schools.

ActionAid creates safe spaces like girls’ clubs within schools. Here, girls can discuss their needs and take concrete action to raise awareness of girls’ rights to education and to tackle violence.

  • 1. WHO ‘Global estimates of health consequences due to violence against children’

Violence and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights

Girls who marry as children are at higher risk of domestic violence than women who choose to marry.1  Girls in many contexts are often married off to the perpetrators of rape or sexual assault. It is a violation of women’s and girls’ sexual health and reproductive rights, and perpetuates other forms of violence including denial of education.

Girls are usually physically and emotionally unprepared for sexual activity, pregnancy and childbirth. Globally, 16 million girls aged 15-19, and 1 million girls under the age of 15, give birth each year.2 Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for girls aged 15-19 worldwide.3 

Reducing child marriage and the adolescent birth rate is necessary to not only improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, but also to reduce domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.

  • 1. Spencer, D. (2015). “TO PROTECT HER HONOUR” Child marriage in emergencies – the fatal confusion between protecting girls and sexual violence. 1st ed. [ebook] London: CARE. Available at: [Accessed 4 Jun. 2017].
  • 2. World Health Organisation (n.d.). Adolescent pregnancy. [online] World Health Organization. Available at: factsheets/fs364/en/ [Accessed 4 Jun. 2017].
  • 3. World Health Organisation (n.d.). Adolescent pregnancy. [online] World Health Organization. Available at: factsheets/fs364/en/ [Accessed 4 Jun. 2017].

Women’s rights organisations lead the way 

Women’s rights organisations are at the forefront of the struggle to end violence against women, and they hold the key to achieving transformational change. Because their work is strategic, lasting and cost effective, it has successfully transformed the lives of many of the most marginalised women and girls. 

You may also be interested in…

Join our campaign to end violence against women and girls.

Read our latest policy work on ending violence against women and girls.

Support our work with women and girls across the world.


Page updated 18 March 2018