Definitions are not merely a means of establishing clarity; rather, they shape the field in which a concept is understood, measured and evaluated. Definitions of violence against women establish what acts are perceived as violence by a society and which are not, which acts come into the remit of the law and which go unrecognized, and who is perceived as a legitimate victim or perpetrator. It is therefore essential that researchers and activists working in the area of violence against women and girls (VAWG) adopt clear definitions that adequately recognize the variety, scope and impact of violence on women and girls, their families, communities and societies.
This paper examines contributions to understandings of violence from a number of disciplines which have shaped and informed the most common conceptualisations of VAWG today. Though a review of existing literature demonstrates a growing understanding of the complexity and interconnection between types of violence, contexts and consequences, nevertheless this paper suggests gaps remain in terms of our conceptualisation and understanding of the impact of VAWG, including the cumulative social and economic costs of multiple experiences of violence across the individual life-time.