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.

"It is time to further our collective action to end violence against women and girls -- for good."

-- António Guterres, UN Secretary-General (2017-present)

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.

“By rape, the victim is treated as a mere object of sexual gratification…without regard for the personal autonomy and control over what happens to his or her body…rape is one of the most repugnant affronts to human dignity and the range of dignity-related rights, such as security of the person and integrity of the person…”

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Communication 341/2007 –
Equality Now v Federal Republic of Ethiopia

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

There are also various regional and international laws and guidelines including:

Explore more about international laws and standards on ending sexual violence.


What is Equality Now doing to end sexual violence?

Violence against women and girls is rooted in inequality. Our work to advance gender equality around the world supports our efforts to get justice for survivors and victims of sexual violence – with the ultimate goal of preventing such violence altogether.

Equality Now uses the law to end violence against women and girls by:

  • Advocating for strong laws and policies in line with international human rights standards to protect and ensure that women and girls can access justice
  • Making sure that laws and policies are implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, including proper investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offenders
  • Pushing for legal procedures that support survivors and prevent re-victimization
  • Working with partners to bring specific cases to national, regional and international judicial bodies to underscore the global nature of this human rights violation


What support is available for those experiencing sexual violence?

Equality Now does not provide direct support for those experiencing sexual violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence there are secure, confidential and free resources available. 

If you are in Lebanon:

If you are in the US:

If you are in the UK: 

If you are in Europe, you may find this directory of organizations useful. ^