Violence against women


Every day, OHCHR offices around the world receive reports of violence against women: – intimate-partner violence; gender-motivated killings, including so-called “honour crimes”; sexual and gender-based violence; use of sexual violence as a weapon of war; forced marriages; acid attacks; so called “corrective” rape of lesbians; trafficking of young women; physical and psychological abuse of migrant and domestic workers; torture in detention, forced sterilisation– these are just some examples. Violence against women comes in many different forms. Violence against women and girls harm families and communities and is a major cause of death and disability.

The CEDAW Committee in its General Recommendation 19 on VAW notes that by ratifying the CEDAW Convention, States have undertaken legal obligations to prevent and eliminate violence against women. The Committee defined gender based violence as “violence that is disproportionately directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.”

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines gender-based violence, as "any act…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". The Declaration identifies three areas in which violence commonly takes place: in the family; within the general community; and perpetrated or condoned by the State and prohibit violence against women whether committed by public or private actors in different contexts - within the family, at the community and at the State level.

The CEDAW Committee, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the resolution establishing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and subsequent developments at the international level have all highlight the elimination of violence against women in public and private life is a human rights obligation and that this form of violence impedes the ability of women and girls to claim, realize and enjoy their human rights on an equal foot with men.

What OHCHR does

OHCHR advocacy and programmatic work on violence against women is based on human rights norms and standards. The principle of non-discrimination and equal rights of women and men is central to all aspects of the Women Human Rights and Gender Section (WHRGS) work. Also underpinning the work is the due diligence principle which places an obligation on States to prevent, investigate, prosecute and provide effective remedies for women who experience violence.

OHCHR supports the approach developed by the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. Since the creation of the Mandate in 1993, mandate holders have positioned violence against women within the overall subordination of women within a patriarchal system and have consistently viewed violence against women as an outcome of gender discrimination that shapes social, economic, cultural and political structures. The need to address the root causes of violence against women has led mandate holders to focus on the indivisibility of rights and to make a shift from a victim-oriented approach to one of empowerment, including education, health and gender equality requirements as part of the due diligence obligation of the State to prevent violence against women.

1. Advocacy and Awareness Raising

OHCHR undertakes advocacy on violence against women issues at different levels and with multiple actors, including States, civil society organizations, international and regional organizations and other UN entities.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is commemorated on 25 November each year, setting off 16 days of activism on this issue and leading up to Human Rights Day on 10 December, the date on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948.

OHCHR has posted a series of web-stories on the OHCHR’s web-site in commemoration of the 16-day of activism to eliminate violence against women and Human Rights Day:

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 25 November 2012
On 23 November, OHCHR jointly with WHO, UNFPA and the Permanent Mission of Canada organised a panel discussion to mark the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence.

During the 16 days of activism and in connection with International Human Rights Day, OHCHR participated in a number of events involving Member States and UN entities. Also, during the 16 days, the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement condemning violence against women and girls within the context of education entitled the “Malala Effect”.

International Women’s Day 2013
To celebrate International Women´s Day on 8 March, TOHCHR, UNFPA, WHO, and the Graduate Institute in Geneva held an event during the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council entitled “Ending gender-based violence and discrimination: Youth as agents of change”. The side event was sponsored by YWCA, the Permanent Missions of Mexico and the United States to the United Nations. Panellists included youth activists from India, Mexico, the United States, South Africa and Switzerland. The event today was livestreamed, you can find the link at

The High Commissioner issued opinion editorial which was published by the New Age on 13 March 2013.

2. Support to Human Rights Mechanisms

The women human rights and gender section (WHRGS) of OHCHR provides ad hoc support to the various human rights mechanisms in cooperation with Special Procedures and Human Rights Treaties Divisions. Support has included participation in CEDAW consultations on general recommendations and ad-hoc support to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Human Rights Council, 17th Session June-July 2011
OHCHR supported the organization of the full-day discussion on women’s rights at the 17th session of Human Rights Council, which focused on the prevention of violence against women and conflict-related violence against women and girls.

Human Rights Council, 20th Session June-July 2012
Human Rights Council in its 20th session paid a special attention to the human rights situation of women worldwide with a focus on violations against women, especially in national conflict situations. About 27 informal meetings were held with a direct reference to the human rights situation of women. The discussion was brought into focus during the annual full-day discussion on Women’s Human Rights.

The first panel of the annual full-day discussion on Women’s Human Rights focused on remedies and reparations for women who have been subjected to violence. The debate focused on promising practices and challenges in addressing issues and measures taken to provide effective, prompt, just, transformative and culturally sensitive reparations for women who have been subjected to violence in different contexts.

The second Panel of the annual day of discussion on women’s rights focused on women human rights defenders. The participants discussed existing efforts and practices with regard to prevention and protection of women human rights defenders including the adoption of national plans and development of gender specific mechanisms.

11 June 2012 Side event during the 20th session of the Human Rights Council on “violence against women and girls and disability

3. Strengthening national capacity to promote and protect human rights

Traditionally, OHCHR field presences work on violence against women has been in the form of technical advice on the formulation/revision of legislation; awareness raising of relevant recommendations by human rights mechanisms; training activities and technical assistance.

The regional gender advisors have also supported a variety of activities.

In the Asia Pacific Region, the Gender Advisor has promoted the Regional Office’s engagement with the government on constitutional reforms in particular to repeal the Sorcery Act. In addition, the gender advisor has developed a network of Women's Human Rights Defenders in Papua New Guinea to work on amongst others eradicating harmful practices.

In Cameroon, amongst other activities, the gender advisor has contributed to the elaboration of the Cameroon National Gender policy, which frames the national effort to combat gender-based violence. In West Africa, the gender advisor is providing technical assistance in the development of National Action Plans for Senegal and Gambia.

The Regional Advisor in Panama has been actively involved in the development of normative issues surrounding femicide. The gender advisor is spear heading a joint initiative with UNFPA and the University “Centro Americana José Simeón Cañas” in El Salvador to create a certificated training course on “Attention and Investigation of Gender-based Violence” for professionals in the justice, security and health sectors. The regional gender advisor is also providing support to governments in the implementation of the Protocol on Femicide.

OHCHR is involved in discussions concerning Southern African Development Community (SADC) discussions on a regional strategy on gender based violence.

4. Engagement with United Nations inter-agency mechanisms

At the global and local levels, OHCHR work closely with UN partners, particularly UN women, in efforts to eradicate violence against women. OHCHR and UN Women are currently developing a letter of agreement which would include joint activities on violence against women programming including working together to support human rights mechanisms, especially CEDAW, SR VAW and Working Group on Discrimination against women in law and in practice and closer cooperation in inter-agency mechanisms concerning women’s rights and gender equality. At various levels, OHCHR coordinates and cooperates with the Secretary General UNiTE Campaign to combat Violence against Women, through its New York Office with the UN Trust Fund on Violence against Women.

OHCHR participates actively in the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, including its task force on violence against women. WHRGS also contributes to the inventory of activities of the United Nations system on violence against women, compiled twice yearly by UN Women as part of the activities of the task force on violence against women.

OHCHR was actively involved in the planning of the 57th session of CSW which had the priority theme of “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”. The agreed conclusion text of the session contained strong human rights language on holistic approaches to the prevention of violence, and strong messages on the need to address structural and underlying causes of violence to eliminate violence against women.

Main OHCHR thematic studies/reports/documents

  • Summary of the Human Rights Council panel discussion on the theme of remedies for women subjected to violence - A/HRC/21/65
  • Thematic study on the Issue of Violence against Women and Girls and Disability: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - A/HRC/20/5
  • Good and effective practices in adopting a human rights based approach to eliminate preventable maternal mortality and morbidity - Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - A/HRC/18/27
  • Good practices in efforts aimed at preventing violence against women - Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - A/HRC/17/23

Main speeches