Feature Item: Legislation on violence against women

“Violence against women is always a violation of human rights; it is always a crime; and it is always unacceptable.” — United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

In 2008, the Secretary-General of the United Nations included the adoption and enforcement ofnational laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls, in line with internationalhuman rights standards, by 2015 as o­ne of the five key outcomes of his UNiTE to end violence againstwomen campaign. This decision is part of concerted attention and action at the global level to clarify andreinforce the obligations of States to strengthen legislation o­n violence against women.


International human rights treaties require States parties to take legislative action.Human rights treatybodies, in particular the Committee o­n the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, advise States o­nhow to bring their domestic legislation o­n violence against women into conformity with global standards andensure that violence against women is prosecuted and punished, and that victims/survivors have adequatemeans of redress and protection. Regional instruments also call o­n States to strengthen their legalframeworks, and a growing body of jurisprudence o­n violence against women requests States to respondwith legislative action.


The landmark United Nations Declaration o­n the Elimination of Violence against Women of 1993 callson Member States to develop sanctions in domestic legislation to punish and redress violence againstwomen, to provide access to just and effective remedies for victims, and to ensure that women are not revictimizedbecause of laws insensitive to gender considerations. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action urgesStates to adopt, implement, and periodically review and analyze legislation in order to ensure itseffectiveness in eliminating violence against women, and emphasizes the prevention of violence and theprosecution of offenders.


In recent resolutions, the United Nations General Assembly has recommended action to evaluate andassess the impact of legislation and, where necessary, reinforce criminal law and procedure. It has alsoidentified as a best practice the incorporation into law of measures aimed at preventing violence againstwomen.


As at 30 April 2006, 89 States had enacted legislative provisions that specifically addressed domesticviolence. Marital rape could be prosecuted in at least 104 States. 90 States had some form of legislativeprovision against sexual harassment. 93 States had some form of legislative provision regarding trafficking inhuman beings. And 15 of the 28 African States where female genital mutilation/cutting is prevalent hadenacted laws.


Source: Study of the Secretary-General o­n violence against women, A/61/122/Add. 1 and Corr. 1, Box 11


Laws o­n violence against women have evolved markedly over the past two decades. Based o­nexperiences gained during this time, a solid understanding has emerged of the critical elements of aneffective legal framework to address violence against women. A number of key insights, trends andpromising practices can now be identified.


One key insight is the recognition that a comprehensive legislative approach to violence againstwomen is needed. Legislation should explicitly recognize violence against women as a form of gender-baseddiscrimination and a violation of women’s human rights. Definitions of all forms of violence against womencovered in the law should be broad and in accordance with international human rights standards. Legislationshould encompass not o­nly the criminalization of all forms of violence and the effective prosecution andpunishment of perpetrators, but also provisions o­n prevention and the empowerment, support and protectionof victims/survivors.


The incorporation of provisions o­n prevention in legislation o­n violence against women is a relativelynew development. States have started to enact laws that mandate preventive measures, includingawareness-raising campaigns, sensitization of the communications media, and the use of educationalcurricula to modify discriminatory social and cultural patterns of behaviour. Such elements in law areindicative of a holistic approach that aims to tackle the root causes of violence against women, includingattitudes and behaviours that perpetuate such violence.


Legislation increasingly focuses o­n empowering and supporting the victim/survivor. The

victim/survivor’s right to a “protection order” against the perpetrator reflects this trend. Amendments toemployment and social security laws ensure that victims/survivors receive appropriate support andassistance as they deal with the violence they have faced. Laws also mandate the State to support theestablishment of shelters, of integrated support services centres, and/or to provide legal assistance.Significant lessons have been learned in drafting laws that prevent or reduce the re-victimization of thevictim/survivor through the legal process. Criminal procedure and evidence laws now provide greater clarityon the duties of police and prosecutors, and the right of victims/survivors to be informed of their rights andavailable remedies.


A further promising trend is the inclusion in laws of provisions to strengthen their full and gendersensitiveimplementation. Towards this end, laws mandate the allocation of a budget for implementation;create organic links to a national action plan/strategy to address violence against women; and requiretraining for all relevant professionals, including law enforcement, judicial and health sector personnel. Lawsalso mandate the creation of dedicated mechanisms tasked with monitoring and evaluating implementation.

Such mechanisms provide a critical means of oversight and accountability, and help in the identification ofunforseen negative effects of the law, of unsatisfactory implementation and of adequate remedial steps.


A comprehensive approach to legislation: the Mexican Law o­n Access of Women to a Life Freeof Violence (2007)


This law is a key example of a comprehensive legislative approach to violence against women. Itrequires the State and municipalities to take budgetary and administrative measures; prioritizes the inclusionof measures to address violence against women in the National Development Plan; and obliges theGovernment to formulate and implement a national policy to prevent, address, sanction and eradicateviolence against women. The law covers different forms of violence, including those committed in the family,the workplace and educational institutions, the community and State institutions, as well as femicide. Itrequires the State to undertake preventive measures, such as educational programmes at all levels ofschooling, that promote gender equality and a life free of violence for women and girls. It identifies measuresfor the protection and empowerment of victims/survivors, such as shelters and protection orders. It mandatesthe creation of a national databank to support implementation and monitoring of the law.


These insights and experiences are elaborated in detail in the guidelines and model framework forlegislation o­n violence against women, which the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Womenhas issued, with the support of an Expert Group Meeting. The purpose of the framework is to assist Statesand other stakeholders in enhancing existing, and developing new, legislation o­n violence against women. Itis available at:



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