What is violence against women?

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is any act of gender-based violence that causes or could cause physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of harm or coercion, in public or private life.(1)

Violence against women (VAW) is violence or abuse where the majority of victims/survivors are women and the majority of perpetrators are men.

VAWG is an intolerable injustice in Scotland, preventing our society from being as safe, healthy and successful as it could be.

VAWG remains:

On a continuum

All forms of VAWG are linked and range from obvious violations of women’s rights to subtle or distorted forms of control over women’s lives, bodies and sexuality . VAWG includes (but is not limited to) domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, stalking and harassment, online abuse, commercial sexual exploitation (including pornography and prostitution) , harmful traditional practices (including forced marriage and FGM) and femicide.

Caused by gender inequality

The root cause of VAWG is gender inequality which is caused by patriarchal norms that damage all genders. It can be experienced in multiple ways at different ages and stages in life. It can manifest as unequal access to economic, social and political power, objectification of women and unequal distribution of caring responsibilities.


There is not a single country in the world where women and girls are free from male violence.

Violence against women occurs across all ages, socio-economic groups, geographic locations, abilities and cultural backgrounds.

Hidden and unacknowledged

Some forms of violence against women remain hidden and unacknowledged by wider society. These include misogynistic harassment on social media (2) , pornographic deepfake videos (3) and digital domestic abuse. Non-physical forms of violence are often neglected and unaddressed, such as gaslighting, street harassment or restricting access to reproductive support services.

The high levels of acceptance of non-physical forms of violence in our society uphold the patriarchy and gender inequality and creates a culture where violence against women is normalised.

Exacerbated by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures have impacted all people in the UK, but initial research has indicated that they have had a particular and significant impact on women and girls (4) and that those women and girls who are already marginalised have been affected in additional ways.

Evidence shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing gender inequality (5). As gender inequality has widened, the global prevalence of VAWG has increased. Available data available suggests that all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic abuse, have intensified during the pandemic (6).

CLICK here to learn more about the Impact of Covid 19 on Women’s Equality and Safety.

Exacerbated by other forms of inequality

While gender inequality is the root cause of violence against women, it is not the only or the most prominent factor in every context. Violence against women is often experienced in combination with other forms of structural inequality and discrimination such as racism, homophobia, classism, transphobia and ableism.

Ethnic minority and migrant women’s experience of sexual harassment is often bound up with racial harassment and/or their immigration status (7).

Disabled women experience sexual harassment and other forms of VAW at disproportionately higher rates and in different forms than non-disabled women .

83% of trans women have experienced hate crime at some point in their lives (8) .

Ethnic minority and migrant women face disproportionate levels of domestic homicide and abuse-driven suicide (9).


  1. United Nations General Assembly. 1993. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Available online at
  2. UK Government Research and analysis Adult Online Hate, Harassment and Abuse: A rapid evidence assessment
  3. The State of Deepfakes: Landscape, Threats, and Impact, Henry Ajder, Giorgio Patrini, Francesco Cavalli, and Laurence Cullen, September 2019.
  4. Engender Briefing: Women and COVID-19 (; Mckinsey 2020, COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects (; Alon et al. 2020 The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality, The University of California (
  5. Fisher and Ryan (2021), Gender inequalities during COVID -19 (
  6. Office for National Statistics (2020), Outcomes for disabled people in the UK: 2020 (
  7. LAWS (2019) UnHeard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work (
  8. Plummer, S; Findlay, P (2012) Women with disabilities' experience with physical and sexual abuse: review of the literature and implications for the field: UNFPA (2010) Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls in Sexual and Reproductive Services: a review of knowledge assets: Ortoleva, S; Lewis, H (2012) Forgotten Sisters — a Report on Violence Against Women and Disabilities: an overview of its nature, scope, causes and consequences
  9. Equality Network and Scottish Trans (2017), Scottish LGBTI Hate Crime Report Picture (
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