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The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women, or VAW, as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” All forms of gender-based violence are driven by gender inequalities and unequal power relations. In this course, we focus on VAW because it is the most common form of gender-based violence worldwide.

Women experience various types of violence throughout their lives in every country in the world. The 2018 global violence against women prevalence estimates show that, on average, 31% of women ages 15–49 had experienced physical or sexual IPV, sexual violence from an acquaintance or stranger, or both in their lifetime.

We often talk about four different ways in which VAW is manifested including:

  • Sexual: any act of sexual aggression or coercion including forced intercourse, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances.
  • Physical: any act that causes physical harm as a result of unlawful physical force (e.g. acts of physical aggression, such as slapping, hitting, kicking, and beating).
  • Emotional / psychological: acts such as constant belittling, humiliating, or undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth/self-esteem; other ‘controlling’ behaviours such as restricting a person’s mobility and/or access to family, friends, information, or services.
  • Economic: acts such as controlling finances; stealing money; or restricting, exploiting, or sabotaging access to other resources such as housing, food, property, employment, and transportation.

Although they are listed as discrete categories, these types of violence often occur together.