VAWG is an equality and human rights issue

Violence against women is a violation of women’s fundamental human rights:

  • The right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading way
  • The right to respect for private and family life (including the right to physical and psychological integrity)
  • The right to life

UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)

For the purposes of this Declaration, the term “violence against women” means 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. Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following:

(a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, nonspousal violence and violence related to exploitation;

(b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution

(c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.

The Declaration calls on States to act with due diligence to prevent and respond to violence against women.

CEDAW - the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

CEDAW, the 'international bill of rights for women', was adopted by the UN in 1979.

General recommendation 19 of the Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) defines gender-based violence as violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately and declares it to be “a form of discrimination against women that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men”.

The general recommendation makes clear that “states may be …responsible for private acts if they fail with due diligence to prevent violations of rights or to investigate and punish acts of violence, and for providing compensation”.

The UK signed up to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW at the end of 2004. This entitles individual women and groups of individual women to petition CEDAW on violations of the Convention. It also allows the Committee to launch enquiries into grave or systematic violations, including all forms of violence against women.

 UN Special Rapporteur

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, including its causes and consequences, in 1994. In 2003 the Commission agreed this resolution:“... emphasized the duty of Governments to... exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women and to take appropriate and effective action concerning acts of violence against women, and to provide access to just and effective remedies and specialized, including medical, assistance to victims; affirmed, in this light, that violence against women constitutes a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and that violence against women impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms.”

European action

The Roadmap for Equality between women and men (2006-2010) was adopted by the EC on 1 March 2006. One of its six priority areas for action is the eradication of all forms of gender-based violence.

The Council of Europe (COE) Member States adopted an action plan in 2005 which included two concrete measures to combat violence against women:

  • to set up a task force to combat violence against women, including domestic violence, and
  • to launch a campaign.

The campaign was launched in November 2006, and is being carried out jointly with the Parliamentary Assembly of the COE and the Council of Regional and Local Authorities. It focuses on domestic violence and covers four thematic areas: legal and policy measures, support and protection of victims, data collection and raising awareness.

The COE has encouraged Member States to make progress in these areas during the campaign and requested that each State appoints a high-level official and focal point for the COE campaign. Member States have also been urged to run their own national campaigns in parallel or as a follow up to the COE campaign. The UK Government has not yet launched a parallel national campaign.

In 2006 the Council of Europe published a stocktaking study which assessed progress on the protection of women from violence. The stocktaking study was drawn from the results of the monitoring framework to evaluate progress and implementation of the recommendation that was sent to all member states in 2005.

In 2007 the COE published an analytical study based on the results of the stocktake, to assess progress. However, the UK is notable for its absence, as it did not submit a response to the COE.

Click here for the COE report Combating violence against women: minimum standards for support services by Prof L Kelly and L Dubois

 

In the UK - Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic law. Articles of the Convention include:

  • The right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading way
  • The right to respect for private and family life (ncluding the right to physical and psychological integrity)
  • The right to life.

Resources

Women's Equality in the UK, a Health Check, UK CEDAW Shadow Report, CEDAW Working Group (coalition of 42 UK women's and human rights organisations), April 2013

Agreed Conclusions of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, UN, March 2013

A Theory of Change for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls, ActionAid UK on behalf of the Gender and Development Network for DFID, 2012

Council of the European Union conclusions on combating violence against women, and the provision of support services for domestic violence, December 2012, based on the below:

Violence Against Women- Victim Support: Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in the EU Member States, European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), December 2012

Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence Against Women and Girls UN

Use it before we lose it: How can the violence against women sector use the Human Rights Act in these challenging times? BIHR, 2011

Measuring up? UK compliance with international commitments on violence against womenRights of Women, 2010