Domestic violence is a human rights issue
Domestic violence is one of many forms of violence against women – including rape and sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, trafficking, forced prostitution, sexual harassment – that constitute a violation of the most fundamental human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – proclaimed in 1948 by the General Assembly of the UN and the foundation of the UN’s human rights system – states that everyone should enjoy human rights without discrimination and affirms the equal rights of women and men. However, in practice gross violations of women’s human rights have often been ignored and structural discrimination against women not challenged.
To address this, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) provides a detailed mandate to secure equality between women and men and to prohibit discrimination against women. CEDAW expressly requires states to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise” (Article 2 (e)).
In 1992, the CEDAW Committee adopted General Recommendation 19 on “violence against women”, which defined violence as a form of discrimination against women, and emphasises that governments are responsible for eliminating discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise, and that governments are required to prevent violations of rights by any actor, punish these acts and provide compensation (paragraph 9).
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1994) defines violence against women as:
“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, non-spousal 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) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.”
Despite progress made regarding women’s human rights through the campaigning of women’s organisations and activists, and despite governments adopting policies and legal reforms to eradicate it, women are still not safe from violence. The Council of Europe has stated that domestic violence is the biggest cause of death and disability for all women aged 16 to 44.
"Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace." UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Women and children have a right to live their lives free from all forms of violence and abuse, and society and the UK governments have a duty to recognise and defend this right.