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Violence against women

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines “violence against women” as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”

It has taken decades of struggle by the women’s rights movement to persuade the international community to view violence against women as a human rights concern and not just as a private matter in which the State should not interfere: in 1992, the CEDAW Committee in its General Recommendation No. 19, asserted that violence against women is a form of discrimination, directed towards a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. This violence seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. In December 1993, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, recognized that violence against women violates women's rights and fundamental freedoms and called on states and the international community to work toward the eradication of violence against women. The same year, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recognized that the elimination of violence against women in public and private life is a human rights obligation. The then Commission on Human Rights condemned gender-based violence for the first time in 1994 and the same year appointed a Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. The 1995 UN World Conference on Women held in Beijing reaffirmed the conclusions of the Vienna Conference, listing violence against women as one of the critical areas of concern.

Framing violence against women as a human rights violation implies an important conceptual shift. It means recognizing that women are not exposed to violence by accident, or because of an in-born vulnerability. Instead, violence is the result of structural, deep-rooted discrimination which the state has an obligation to address. Preventing and addressing violence against women is therefore not a charitable act. It is a legal and moral obligation requiring legislative, administrative and institutional measures and reforms.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the CEDAW General Recommendation 19 adopt the concept of due diligence obligation of States. Under this obligation, States have a duty to take positive action to prevent and protect women from violence, punish perpetrators of violent acts and compensate victims of violence. The principle of due diligence is crucial as it provides the missing link between human rights obligations and acts of private persons.

Considerable progress has been made in many countries of the world. Comprehensive legal frameworks and specific institutions and policies have been put in place to promote women’s rights and protect women from violence. There is growing awareness of the nature and impact of violence against women around the world. Innovative and promising practices are reported every year to the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the Commission on the Status of Women, including in the areas of investigations, prosecution and provision of services.

Yet, the figures on prevalence of violence against women are mind-boggling. According to recent data by the World Health Organization, one third of women globally experience violence at least once in their lifetime. There are still considerable obstacles to women’s access to justice, resulting into widespread impunity for violence. Considerable efforts are still required to ensure the realization of the right of women and girls to a life free from violence.

Feature stories

Meetings, Events & Workshops

5 September 2014
UN General Assembly panel discussion on child, early and forced marriage and its implications for the post-2015 development agenda, Deputy High Commissioner and video message

16 June 2014
Human Rights Council, High Level Panel Discussion on Female Genital Mutilation – Concept note

23 June 2014 
Human Rights Council, Panel Discussion on Early, Child and Forced Marriages – Concept note

25 November-10 December 2013
16 days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence

Studies, reports and papers

Report on attacks against girls seeking access to education

Legislation and Analytical Study on so-called honour killings in Palestine

Summary of the recommendations of the panel discussion on gender stereotyping and on women's human rights in the context of sustainable development agenda - Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - A/HRC/27/73

Summary report on the high-level panel discussion on the identification of good practices in combating female genital mutilation - A/HRC/27/36

Summary report on the panel discussion on preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage - A/HRC/27/34

Latin American Protocol for the Investigation of femicide (2014)
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Summary report on the high-level panel discussion on the identification of good practices in combating female genital mutilation

OHCHR Report (A/HRC/26/22): Preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage (2 April 2014)

OHCHR Report (A/HRC/21/65): Summary of the Human Rights Council panel discussion on the theme of remedies for women subjected to violence (16 August 2012)

OHCHR Report (A/HRC/20/5): Thematic study on the issue of violence against women and girls and disability (30 March 2012)

OHCHR Report (A/HRC/17/23): good practices in efforts aimed at preventing violence against women (19 April 2011)

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