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VAWG is a Human Rights issue

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

  • The right to life
  • The right not to be tortured or 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 not to be discriminated against

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) (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.”

In the UK – Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010

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 (including the right to physical and psychological integrity)
  • The right to life.


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

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

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