September 20, 2014 OPINION/NEWS




Anant Mishra

What we know

Violence and discrimination against women is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. The term ‘violation against women’ can also be called ‘Gender-based violence’. The violation includes sexual, physical, economic and psychological abuses. The age, race, wealth, culture, geography does not change the fact of violence against women.  Violence against women is present in every country, cutting across boundaries of culture, class, education, income, ethnicity and age.

Even though most societies proscribe violence against women, the reality is that violations against women’s human rights are often sanctioned under the garb of cultural practices and norms, or through misinterpretation of religious tenets. It has many manifestations from the most universally prevalent forms of domestic and sexual violence, to harmful practices, abuse during pregnancy, so-called honour killings and other types of femicide. Violence against women can harm families and communities.

For women and girls between 16 and 44 years old, violence against them is a main cause of death and disability. According to the World Bank study in 1994, on ten selected risk factors that this age group is facing, it was found that rape and domestic violence are more dangerous than cancer, deadly accidents, war and malaria. Studies also reveal that the women in South Africa who are beaten by their partners are 48% more likely to catch AIDS than those who are not beaten. Countries have made a great deal of progress in dealing with the violation and discrimination against women. According to the UN Secretary-General‘s 2006 In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women, 89 countries had some legislation on domestic violence, and a growing number of countries had instituted national plans of action.

However, in 102 countries there are no specific legal provisions against domestic violence, and marital rape is not a prosecutable offence in at least 53 nations. The United Nations describes the violence against women ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or mental 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 scope of the problem intimate partner and sexual violence are mostly perpetrated by men against girls and women. The WHO multi-country study on women‘s health and domestic violence against women in 10 mainly developing countries found that, among women aged 15 to 49 years: between 15% of women in Japan and 70% of women in Ethiopia and Peru reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner; between 0.3–11.5% of women reported experiencing sexual violence by a non-partner; the first sexual experience for many women was reported as forced – 24% in rural Peru, 28% in Tanzania, 30% in rural Bangladesh, and 40% in South Africa.  Population based studies suggest that a substantial population of young population especially women are affected a lot from the violence. Looking through the incidences all around the world, the violation and discrimination is at an alarming rate and no society can to be free from this violence.  The violation is usually perpetrated by males who are mostly the husbands, boyfriends, fathers, father-in law, brothers, sons, or other male relatives. Domestic violence can start from the beginning of her life, a girl may be the target of sex-selective abortion or female infanticide in cultures where son preference is prevalent. During childhood, violence against girls may include enforced malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and education, incest, female genital mutilation, early marriage, and forced prostitution or bonded labour. Other types of discrimination and violence might include: rape, forced pregnancy or abortion, harmful traditional practices such as dowry-related violence, sati (the burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband), and killings in the name of honour.

Women face these crimes in different phases of their lives. For example, according to WHO source:

  • Pre-birth: Sex-selective abortion; effects of battering during pregnancy on birth outcomes. During infancy: Female infanticide; physical, sexual and psychological abuse;

  • Girlhood: Child marriage; female genital mutilation; physical, sexual and psychological abuse; incest; child prostitution and pornography;

  • Adolescence and Adulthood: Dating and courtship violence (e.g. acid throwing and date rape), economically coerced sex; incest; sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment; forced prostitution and pornography; trafficking in women; partner violence; marital rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner homicide; psychological abuse; abuse of women with disabilities; forced pregnancy, acid attacks by men;

  • Elderly: Forced suicide or homicide of widows for economic reasons; sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

The physical and psychological consequences of violence and discrimination against women’s sexual and physical and mental health is considerably affected by the gender-based violence. A U.S. study found that women who experienced intimate partner abuse were three times more likely to have a gynaecological problem than non-abused women. These problems include chronic pelvic pain, vaginal bleeding or discharge, vaginal infection, painful menstruation, sexual dysfunction, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, painful intercourse, urinary tract infection, and infertility. Sexual abuse, especially forced sex, can cause physical and mental trauma.

In addition to damage to the urethra, vagina, and anus, abuse can result in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. Women who disclose that they are infected with HIV also may be subjected to violence. As for mental consequences, depression is the most encountered disorder that women experience.

Along with depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive imagery, nightmares, anxiety, emotional numbing, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, eating problems and avoidance of traumatic triggers are also other problems experienced. The fatal outcomes are homicide, suicide, maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS Factors that perpetuate violence against women: There are 4 main factors that cause violence and discrimination against women. Those are:

  1. a) Cultural factors: -Gender specific socialization, Cultural definitions of appropriate sex roles; -Expectations of roles within relationships; -Belief in the inherent superiority of males; -Values that give men proprietary rights over women and girls; -Notion of the family as the private sphere and under male control; -Customs of marriage (bride price/ dowry); -Acceptability of violence as a means to resolve conflict.

  2. b) Economic Factors: -Women’s economic dependence on men; -Limited access to cash and credit; -Discriminatory laws regarding inheritance, property rights, use of communal lands and maintenance after divorce or widowhood; -Limited access to employment in formal and informal sectors; -Limited access to education and training.

  3. c) Legal Factors: -Lesser legal status of women either by written law and by practice; -Laws regarding divorce, child custody, maintenance and inheritance; -Legal definitions of rape and domestic abuse, Low levels of legal literacy among women; -Insensitive treatment of women by police and security forces.

  4. d) Political Factors: -Under- representation of women in power, politics; -The media and in the legal and medical professions; -Domestic violence not taken seriously; -Risk of challenge to status quo/religious force; -Limited participation of women as a political force.

Several complex and interconnected institutionalized social and cultural factors have made women vulnerable to violence by men. All those cultural factors are historically unequal power relations between men and women. Religious and historical traditions in the past have sanctioned the chastising and beating of women and this has been seen as normal, since people were religious and conservative. Lack of economic resources is what keeps women vulnerable to men and hinders them from living independently. The link between economic resources and violence is circular. Moreover, fear and threat of domestic violence keep women from seeking employment and compels them to accept low paid home based exploited labour, with which the money they earn cannot help them escape from violence.

Macro economic policies such as structural adjustment programs, globalization, and the growing inequalities they have created, have been linked to increasing levels of violence in several regions, including Latin America, Africa and Asia. The transition period in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union – with increases in poverty, unemployment, hardship, income inequality, stress, and alcohol abuse – has led to increased violence in society in general, including violence against women.

Lack of legal protection, especially when the abuse is taking place at home, is a strong factor in perpetuating violence against women. However, it‘s the job of the State to protect violence against women even if the crime is taking place in the home. There are many countries which still don‘t recognize the violence and discrimination of women as a crime.  The challenge is to end impunity for the perpetrators as one means of preventing future abuse.

Combating Violence and Discrimination against women the United Nations has supported and formed many actions, groups and organisations in combating violence against women.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was the result of the experience of the Second World War. With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere. The articles in the UN Declaration of Human rights mainly emphasises the equality of men and women, regardless of their race, colour, religion, social and national origin and other status.


The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

CEDAW is an expert body established in 1982, composed of 23 experts on women’s issues from around the world. The Committee’s mandate is very specific: it watches over the progress for women made in those countries that are the State parties to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A country becomes a State party by ratifying or acceding to the Convention and thereby accepting a legal obligation to counteract discrimination against women. The Committee monitors the implementation of national measures to fulfil this obligation. At each of its sessions, the Committee reviews national reports submitted by the State parties within one year of ratification or accession, and thereafter every four years.  These reports, which cover national action taken to improve the situation of women, are presented to the Committee by Government representatives. In discussions with these officials, the CEDAW experts comment on the report and obtain additional information. This procedure of actual dialogue, developed by the Committee, has proven valuable because it allows for an exchange of views and a clearer analysis of anti-discrimination policies in the various countries. The Committee also makes recommendations on any issue affecting women to which it believes the States parties should devote more attention.


The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

Described as an international bill of rights for women, it came into force on 3 September 1981. The UN member states that have not ratified the convention are Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States. Niue and the Vatican City, which are non-member states, have also not ratified it. The Declaration calls on states to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women and, further to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by private persons. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women is the first international human rights instrument to exclusively and explicitly address the issue. It affirms that the phenomenon violates, impairs or nullifies women’s human rights and their exercise of fundamental freedoms. The Declaration provides a definition of gender-based abuse, calling it “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”.

The definition is amplified in article 2 of the Declaration, which identifies three areas in which violence commonly takes place:  Physical, sexual and psychological violence that occurs 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; non-spousal violence; and violence related to exploitation;  Physical, sexual and psychological violence that occurs 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; Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.


The Maputo Protocol

The Maputo Protocol was originally adopted by the Assembly of the African Union in Maputo, Mozambique on July 11, 2003. The official document is titled Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People‘s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Maputo Protocol is a treaty instrument that is binding for all countries that ratify it. It came into effect in November 2005 after the minimum 15 of the 53 African Union member countries ratified it. As of June 2007, according to the African Union, 43 nations had signed it and 21 had formally ratified it: (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia, Libya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Mauritania, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia). Those who ratify the treaty are called States Parties. Proponents of the Maputo Protocol present it as a method of combating female genital mutilation in Africa, where it is more common than elsewhere. It is estimated that this harmful practice is performed on approximately two million women a year worldwide.

Pro Protocol forces often try to portray opponents of the Protocol as callous towards women‘s rights, even though the Maputo Protocol is not principally aimed at eradicating female genital mutilation. Parties shall take all appropriate measures to:

  1. a) Provide adequate, affordable and accessible health services, including information, education and communication programs to women especially those in rural areas;

  2. b) Establish and strengthen existing pre-natal, delivery and post-natal health and nutritional services for women during pregnancy and while they are breast feeding;

  3. c) Protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the fetus.



Progress of the World‘s Women

The past century has experienced a transformation in women‘s legal rights, many countries in every region having expanded the scope of women‘s legal entitlement. However, there are countries that still don‘t translate the equality and justice laws that exist on the paper. In 1911, just two countries in the world allowed women to vote. A century later, that right is virtually universal and women are exercising greater influence in decision making than ever before. Alongside women‘s greater political influence, there has been a growing recognition of women‘s rights, not only political and civil, but also economic, social and cultural rights.

Today, 186 counties have ratified the CEDAW. 600 million women, more than half the world‘s working women, are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation. Despite major progress on legal frameworks, millions of women report experiencing violence in their lifetimes, usually at the hands of an intimate partner.  Although equality between women and men is guaranteed in the Constitutions of 139 countries and territories, inadequate laws and implementation gaps make these guarantees hollow promises, having little impact on the day-to-day lives of women. Progress of the World‘s women by the reports of United Nations Entity for Gender  Equality and the Empowerment of Women outlines ten recommendations to make justice systems work for women. They are proven and achievable and, if implemented, hold enormous potential to increase women‘s access to justice and advance gender equality.


Supporting women‘s legal organizations

Where the government funded legal aid is limited, women‘s organisations step in to support women that need to pursue a legal case, stopping the violence against her, or seeking divorce or claim land rightfully hers. Implement Gender Sensitive Law Reform: It‘s a foundation for women‘s access to justice, by attempting to make courts more accessible to women, less hostile police to the complaints of women and other necessary reforms. Support one-stop shops to reduce attrition in the justice chain: The justice chain, the series of steps that a woman must take to seek redress, is characterized by high levels of attrition, whereby cases are dropped as they progress through the system. As a result, only a fraction of cases end in a conviction or a just outcome. Put women on the front line of force enforcement: Under reporting of crimes against women is a serious problem in all regions. In 57 countries, the surveys on crime indicate that 10% of women are faced with sexual assault but out of these only 11% are reported. This compares to a similar incidence of robbery, on average 8%, but a reporting rate of 38%.


Invest in women‘s access to justice

Recognising the importance of strengthening the rule of law, governments spend a significant amount on justice aid. However, targeted funding for gender equality remains low. Train Judges and Monitor Decisions: Balanced, well-informed and unbiased judicial decision making is an essential part of ensuring that women who go to court get justice. However, even where laws are in place to guarantee women‘s rights they are not always properly or fairly applied by judges. Increase women‘s access to courts and truth commissions during and after conflicts: Sexual violence as a tactic of warfare has been used systematically and deliberately for centuries. It is used against civilian populations as a deliberate vector of HIV, for the purpose of forced impregnation, to drive the forcible displacement of populations and to terrorize whole communities.


Implement gender-responsive reparations programs

Reparations are the most victim focused justice mechanism and can be an essential vehicle for women‘s recovery. In the Central African Republic, in common with many post-conflict contexts, women say that reparations are needed to help them recover losses and alleviate poverty, but they are also important to recognise women‘s suffering.

Use quotas to boost the number of women legislators: In countries where women‘s representation in parliament increases substantially, new laws that advance women‘s rights often follow. Put gender equality at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs are interdependent and each one depends on making progress on women‘s rights. Scaling up investment and action on the gender equality dimensions of all the goals has the dual advantage of addressing widespread inequality and accelerating progress overall.

Global Progress on Legal Reform: In the past 30 years, there has been significant global progress in order to eliminate injustice violence against women by making legal reforms.

  • 173 countries guarantee paid maternity leave

  • 139 constitution’s guarantee gender equality

  • 125 countries outlaw domestic violence

  • 117 countries outlaw sexual harassment

  • 117 countries have equal pay laws

  • 115 countries guarantee women‘s equal property rights

Despite this progress, in many contexts the legal framework remains fundamentally biased against women. In some cases, laws simply discriminate against women, affording them fewer or lesser rights than men. In many others, laws are based on a male standard of justice that assumes that women and men confront the law on an equal footing, which they rarely do. Consequently, even laws that on paper are gender neutral can be biased. The two areas in which women‘s rights are least protected, where the rule of law is weakest and men‘s privilege is most fiercely guarded are, first, women‘s rights in the private and domestic sphere, including their rights to live free from violence and to make decisions about their sexuality, on marriage, divorce and reproductive health; and, second, women‘s economic rights, including the right to decent work and the right to inherit and control land and other productive resources.


Strengthening the Rule of Law

The key area of reform is for measures to extend the reach of law to cover issues of critical importance to women. The rule of law has traditionally only covered the public sphere. This has meant that what happens within the private domain, particularly within the family and in the home, including the majority of gender-based violence and much of women‘s work, has been hidden and beyond the scope of the law. Historically, governments‘ ambivalence towards regulating gender relations in the private domain and intimate relationships has been exemplified by the lack of domestic violence legislation, the reluctance to recognize marital rape as a criminal offence and the exemption of ‘crimes of honour‘ from prosecution. This has contributed to a widespread perception that abuse of women in this sphere is acceptable. In recent years, governments have made very significant progress in this area.

As of April 2011, 125 countries have passed legislation on domestic violence, including almost all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Two thirds of all countries have also taken steps to make workplaces and public spaces safer for women, by passing laws to prohibit sexual harassment. It is more challenging to assess progress on laws on sexual violence. While almost all countries criminalize rape, penal codes often define sexual violence very narrowly, with many still framing the problem in terms of indecency or immorality, or as a crime against the family or society, rather than a violation of an individual‘s bodily integrity. While a number of countries, including Turkey and Uruguay have taken the important step of abolishing laws that exempt perpetrators of sexual violence if they marry their victims, these provisions still exist in many others.




A poem by Paulette Kelly about a lost domestic violence victim ‘I Got Flowers today’:


I got flowers today,

 It wasn’t my birthday or any other special day,

 We had our first argument last night,

 He said a lot of cruel things that really hurt me, he wasn’t right,

 I know he is sorry and didn’t mean the things he said, because he sent me flowers today.

 I got flowers today.

 It wasn’t our anniversary or any other special day.

Last night he threw me into a wall and started to choke me. It seemed like a nightmare, I couldn’t believe it was real.

 I woke this morning sore and bruised all over.

 I know he must be sorry because he sent me flowers.

 I got flowers today, and it wasn’t mother’s day or any other special day.

Last night, he beat me up again, it was much worse than all the other times.

If I leave him what will I do? How will I take care of my kids? What about money? I am afraid of him and scared to leave.

But I know he must be sorry because he sent me flowers today. I got flowers today,

Today was a very special day; it was the day of my funeral. Last night he finally killed me. He beat me to death.

If only I had gathered enough courage to leave him I would not have gotten flowers today.

The international community finally recognised the rights of women as fundamental human rights. Since that time the international community understands violence against women and girls as a human rights violation.  However, violence against women and girls is not abating –on the contrary. Sexual violence is the crime with the highest increase worldwide. Many countries today are facing violent conflicts or wars; the gap between rich and poor is widening and fundamentalist movements are growing. Such an environment supports a culture of disregard of human rights and brute force. The Millennium Declaration emphasizes that ensuring the physical, emotional, sexual and socio-economic security of women, who are half the world‘s population, constitutes a key contribution towards achieving the MDGs. The inclusion of gender equality and women‘s empowerment as a specific MDG is a reminder that many international and national commitments to women have not been honoured and that much more needs to be done. More resources, from governments and the donor community alike, need to be allocated for prevention work, the provision of services for victims, research and impact monitoring.

There remains an unacceptable gap between international standards on violence against women and national implementation. Partnership with Non Governmental Organisations provides important advantages in addressing violence against women. States must be ready to address new forms of violence against women as they appear and are identified. With political will and resources dedicated, violence against women can be seriously reduced. To end violence against women, the issue must be a local, national, regional and global priority.





Anant Mishra

I am Anant Mishra, former youth representative United Nations.Almost 4 years of experience, I have served in number of committees including United Nations Conference for Trade and Development and Economic and Social Council primarily focusing on international trade, education, finance, economics. food crisis and disputes. Currently I am serving as State Convener – Chhattisgarh for a nation wide think tank Centre for Education Growth and Research, New Delhi. I am also serving as a member of the organising committee Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2014.Prior to this I was a foreign affairs columnist for bureaucracy today and economy analyst for business insider.Currently I am an editor for foreign affairs with political mirror, columnist for the business digest and author on international relations with youth ki awaaz. I am also an author for Indian Economic Review, Delhi School of Economics. I am an author for UNICEF. I am an educationalist with and Security Analyst with Indian Defence Review.


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