Sexual violence is a human rights violation that predominantly affects women and girls as a consequence of systemic and structural inequality.

Over a lifetime, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence — regardless of their age, background or country.

Sexual violence is a global issue

Sexual violence can take many forms, including:

  • All forms of rape, including within a marriage or relationship
  • Incest
  • Forced pregnancies and forced motherhood
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Female genital mutilation and other harmful practices.

It can also result in further human rights violations. The violence occurs in public and private and affects both a woman and her community.

Across the world, governments are failing to fulfill their obligations to protect women and girls, make criminal justice systems victim-friendly and accessible, and prosecute and punish perpetrators. They are also failing to address sex discriminatory laws and policies that reinforce sex discrimination and social norms and attitudes that render sexual violence ‘acceptable’ and blame and stigmatize the victims.

Why is sexual violence a feminist issue?

Sexual violence is overwhelmingly committed against women and girls because of unequal power dynamics exacerbated by gender inequality. Adolescent girls, women with disabilities and women from marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ people, are particularly vulnerable.

Sexual violence and the threat of such violence exert coercive control over women and girls, and prevents them from exercising their rights, accessing resources, services, and opportunities, participating in public and private life, and impacts their physical and mental health. Sexual violence in adolescence can impact a girl’s entire life and potential.

According to the World Bank, in some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP – more than double what most governments spend on education.

Numerous studies have shown that children growing up with violence are more likely to become survivors themselves or perpetrators of violence in the future.

When women and girls can live free from the threat of sexual violence, they can live healthier lives. When communities are safer for women and girls, they are safer and more prosperous for everyone. ^

Sexual violence and international law

Being able to live a life free from sexual violence is not only a fundamental human right but also necessary to meeting Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Empowerment of all Women and Girls of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the SDGs) that all UN member states committed to and which includes the following targets:

  • 5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • 5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
  • 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation

Additionally, Goal 16 of the SDGs has as relevant targets to:

  • 16.1 Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
  • 16.2 End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children
  • 16.3 Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all


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