Treaty Framework: Notes from the Global Calls

Faces smallWhen we launched Everywoman Everywhere in 2014, the goal was to create a global legal tool such as a UN Convention or an Additional Protocol that would lead to the end violence against women and girls worldwide. Now as we prepare to launch the public campaign, we’re examining three potential treaty frameworks to determine which would be the most effective: an additional protocol to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); a new stand-alone human rights treaty; or a new stand-alone treaty with a public health frame.

Everywoman Everywhere members made the case for each framework in a call on November 27 to members of the Working Group, a collection of gender and policy experts across the globe. Summaries of their presentations are below.



An additional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), housed with the UN Human Rights Office, and governed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 

Presented by Ferdous Ara Begum, MPA (Harvard), Member of the Board of Trustees, HelpAge International; Council Member, The International Institute on Ageing (UN-Malta) Satellite Centre for SAARC Countries; former member of UN CEDAW Committee; former Director General, Bangladesh Television; and member of Everywoman Everywhere’s Working Group, South Asia

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) addresses violence against women and girls in General Recommendations No. 19 and 35. The recommendations make clear that violence against women is a form of gender discrimination, and that states are obligated to adopt legal measures and policies to prevent violence, protect survivors, and punish perpetrators.

The Convention and the Committee have already developed legal frameworks on gender-based violence, laying a foundation for global norms that have informed domestic standards and have use to inform by women’s groups for advocacy.

Gaps in the legal framework and implementation of standards at the national level have arisen from a lack of domestic coordination between legislation, policy and social services. The gaps include: an adequate legal framework specific to violence against women and girls at the regional and domestic level; access to a legal system for women, not being there in most a cases; and lack of enforcement on the existing legal framework on violence against women and girls in most countries.

An additional protocol would address these legal and implementation gaps. The new guidelines can include language on how to achieve domestic implementation, specifically by focusing on the commitment of political will, along with steps that must be taken to enforce relevant regional and domestic frameworks.

The better approach to me is a separate, stand-alone treaty on violence against women at the global level. But an additional protocol offers a more readily available option. The well-established Convention and Committee provide an existing human rights framework in which to work, and are already working directly with states toward compliance.



A stand-alone treaty housed with the UN Human Rights Office, and governed by a new committee created to ensure the treaty’s implementation 

Presented by David L. Richards, associate professor of Human Rights & Political Science, University of Connecticut, USA; author of Violence Against Women and the Law (Routledge 2015); member of Everywoman Everywhere Working Group, North America 

On the global calls, I spoke on behalf of the “stand-alone treaty” option. I made three general points, outlined in my speaking notes below. 

  1. Using an Optional Protocol Would be Out of the Norm of Practice

Optional protocols can function like miniature treaties. However, optional protocols (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)/Convention Against Torture (CAT) Torture/Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, etc.) are typically used in international law for purposes of communicating complaints, monitoring, and committee functions related to a legally-binding substantive right established in the main body. Even optional protocols like the second optional protocol to the ICCPR serve to better-define existing treaty language rather than create new rights. For example, the second optional protocol to the ICCPR that prohibits the death penalty is best seen as a clarification and/or extension to Article 6’s commitment to the inherent right to life.

  • Thus, using an optional protocol to CEDAW to establish a new, legally-binding right itself would be outside the norm of practice.
  • To remain in the norm of practice, one would have to truly view violence against women and girls (VAWG) as best-understood, for all legal purposes, as a form of discrimination, rather than vice versa where VAWG is an issue unto itself and discrimination is an inherent component, among others.
    • Such confusion already exists across levels of law. Article 6 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (1994) asserts that “The right of every woman to be free from violence includes, among others: (a) The right of women to be free from all forms of discrimination”. On the other hand, CEDAW’s General Recommendation 19 asserts that violence against women is a form of discrimination.
  1. There is Precedent for a Standalone Route

Through 1970, the prohibition against torture existed in no less than 8 pieces of international law. Yet, its usage in the 1960s and 1970s continued, unabated. So, in 1975 the UN issued a Declaration on the Protection of Persons Against Torture. In December 1977 the general assembly asked the Commission on Human Rights to draft the text of a binding treaty against torture. VAWG finds itself in a similar situation as was torture, in that its prohibition exists across a fragmented landscape of regional, omnibus international, and non-binding components of the international legal fabric.

The CAT created binding conceptual cohesion in its requirement that states create a definition of torture in their domestic codes that didn’t have to be identical to CAT’s articles 1 and 16, but had to align with their object and purpose.

  • Because laws can differ so wildly in strength and scope, the conceptual homogeneity of CAT created greater equality in determining across countries what actions against victims were to be considered what kinds of violations.
    • Empirical work has shown that states look at their neighborhoods with regards to legal standards relating to VAWG, so a standalone has a great potential to bring substantive depth to increased conformity.

CAT also imposed an obligation on states to protect against acts of torture and ill-treatment, as well as established that the passivity of public officials in situations where protection was warranted is actionable. 

  1. General vs Specific Laws

General Recommendation 19  is not legally binding. States, in general, do not regard treaty committee recommendations as legally binding. Thus, CEDAW offers no more to fighting VAWG than a general assault and battery law offers to victims in places without specific legal prohibitions against domestic violence.

One central reason specific treaties exist is to establish, in a legally-binding fashion, that certain groups of persons are at special risk of special types of injuries against human dignity. It is morally imperative, I believe, that states recognize, in legally-binding form, that the gender component of a woman’s overall identity carries significant risk that requires specific guarantees of protection. From a practical legal perspective, recent research has found that, in the context of domestic legal frameworks, specific laws against VAWG are reliably associated with both increased women’s political empowerment and better health-related outcomes. Time and again in in empirical analyses, explicit legal guarantees against gender violence have been shown to be a more-effective safeguard of women’s rights than how long a state has been part of the CEDAW framework. This is not to say CEDAW has not been helpful. It has moved the legal protections for women and girls from the realm of the abysmal. However, can it get us to the place where states have the specific, binding laws and proactive, programmatic functions that women deserve and demand? My answer would be “No, we need a specific stand-alone treaty.”



A specific, stand-alone treaty under the World Health Organization, governed by a new committee created to ensure the treaty’s implementation

Presented by Lisa Shannon, MPA (Harvard), Hon PhD Georgetown, cofounder of Everywoman Everywhere, cofounder Sister Somalia, and author of Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunman, and A Thousand Sisters.

The idea of a specific, stand-alone treaty under the World Health Organization builds on the notion of a stand-alone treaty in general. Positioning the treaty with WHO rather than the UN’s human rights framework, though, give us tremendous flexibility to create a proactive, specific, evidence-based convention that get directly at our goal of producing measurable reductions in violence against women, on the way to elimination.

How? To begin with, human rights treaties are fundamentally “reactive”. They create a global standard and monitor whether states live up to those expectations. Framing the Everywoman Everywhere Treaty in public health terms opens the door to a proactive approach, one that lists concrete steps nations must take, rather than standards open to interpretation.

WHO has put forth one treaty so far, the Tobacco Treaty, and though tobacco and violence against women are vastly different issues, this treaty offers a template for addressing violence against women and girls. First, it positions violence against women as a broad, intersectional issue. WHO says that in order for interventions to be effective, they must occur across all government sectors: justice, security, social services and health. Imagine if a number of government offices were all simultaneously addressing violence against women as part of a legal mandate. The effect would be extraordinary.

To be clear, a public health approach would not disconnect violence against women from human rights. The language in the legal reform and education campaigns would be human rights based. Rather, a public health frame allows for those partial to CEDAW to view a new treaty as complementary to its work, rather than competitive. Removing a potential political barrier through a public health framework would hopefully create a climate of collaboration and support.

Second, while violence against women differs greatly from the health hazard of tobacco, both are framed as cultural and in the personal domain. People wondered how on earth we’d tell the Irish they couldn’t smoke in a pub. Yet over time, views changed.

The Tobacco treaty also has a clear, evidenced-based structure. It outlines six interventions proven to work in lowering tobacco consumption, including health warnings on cigarette packages, high taxes on tobacco, and public education campaigns. The clear expectations—you’ve either put warnings on cigarette packages or you have not—has helped make the Tobacco treaty one of the most well implemented treaties on record.

A new treaty would do the same: require states to enact specific evidence-based practices proven to effectively address violence against women. For example: comprehensive legislative reform. Countries that have implemented legislative reform and laws in the area of domestic violence have seen a dramatic drop in violence against women: women are 14 percent more likely to live to age 65 in nations that have domestic violence laws.

Lastly, WHO established an implementation fund for the Tobacco Treaty in which states contributed according to their ability. Funds are often one reason states give for not implementing a treaty requirement. This is a vital step that would remove that barrier to implementation.

The public health frame is new and a shift in how we’ve thought about addressing violence against women and girls in the past, but it offers the best means of moving a treaty forward. It’s politically expedient, builds on the human rights work already being done, and allows for great flexibility.

MORE: The Governing Bodies Committee outlined Governing Bodies Committee CEDAW Notes.

Have a thought or comment on these approaches? Email us at email hidden; JavaScript is required



“I Must Not Give Up”

coffee meetingCoalition members speak of the importance of a treaty


Everywoman Everywhere Coalition member Lilly BeSoer, Papua New Guinea, wrote those words after attending a gathering of coalition members in New York City. Members who were in town for the annual UN Commission of the Status of Women were meeting to say hello. But what was expected to be a coffee meeting became a powerful cry of global unity for a treaty. “Members shared stories of the trial and tribulation that had brought them there, spoke of the collective power we have built with this global coalition, and how ready, willing, and able they are to fight this challenging fight,” said executive director Vidya Sri. Below are a few highlights from members who spoke.

Khadija-ArfaouiLongtime peace activist Khedija Arfaoui of Tunisia held a picture of her son and daughter-in-law and told the group that the two were killed in the nightclub attack on New Year’s Eve in Istanbul. She described their deaths as an “earthquake,” yet her message was one of resolve. There is pain and challenge, but we cannot afford to lose faith, she said. I have lost my child, have seen the length and breadth of obstacles over the last 40 years, and still I stand her with all of you.

Dr-Morissanda-KouyatéDr. Morissanda Kouyate, a Guinea-born pediatrician now heading the Inter-Africa Committee on Traditional Practices. It wasn’t that long ago that the world gave little thought to the violence of FGM, female genital mutilation. No one wanted to take a meeting, no lawmaker wanted to talk. Yet with persistence, legislation was passed. Today, FGM is a crime in multiple countries in Africa. We were knocking on doors, knocking doors and we must keep knocking.

Caroline-HerewiniCaroline Herewini has been working for more than 20 years to aid her indigenous Maori community in New Zealand. She captured the spirit of our collective effort when she spoke of the treaty reached between the British and the Maori long ago. She explained that before she speaks, she pays respect to her ancestors, and that history roots her in the present. Similarly, working with respect to existing cultures and beliefs, as we are with this treaty, paves the path for peace and productivity. She noted that when the visitors came from the UK long ago, they were pulled into the existing legal framework of the Maori people in New Zealand. The local law was part of the agreement with these guests and the treaty was an agreement between equals. Equality, respect of culture, and working together are essential, Caroline emphasized, adding, we have proverb: “He aha te mea nui o te Ao”? He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata! What is the greatest thing of all? It is people, it is people, it is people!

The gathering had a motivating effect on all of us. It reminded us we are in this together and wanted to share that thought with all members by including a sampling of emails members sent to executive director Vidya Sri after the event.

“This treaty, now going through its arduous journey, will have learnt lessons from what was missing in the CEDAW. I believe it is going to play a significant role in eliminating the many types of violence that destroy women’s lives. At last, we are addressing the injustices that widows endure, so hidden, so neglected. Bless you all in your great work, love, Margaret.” – Margaret Owen, Widows for Peace through Democracy, England

“On this journey to a just world, there are hardships and obstacles. But there are also extraordinary stories of courage, perseverance and grit, the sweet fruits of friendship and bonding, and oases in the middle of this desert of cussedness of vested interests. Yesterday was one such oasis. “I feel blessed to be part of this extraordinary group and this amazing journey. Success then for us is not an option. It is a given.” —Meera Khanna, Guild For Service, India

“Thanks for bringing together such a beautiful gathering of hearts, heads and minds. We did not get to hear all our stories, but we definitely felt the passion that binds us together. Keep the flag flying. Excelsior!” – Eleanor Nwadinobi, Widows Development Organisation, Nigeria

“Hearing stories from the other great women have really empowered me and helped me to understand and know that I am not battling alone in my corner of the world, there are other sisters doing the same thing and we are in it together. This really motivates me to feel part of the movement and I must not give up.” – Lilly BeSoer, founder of the women’s rights NGO Voice for Change, Papua New Guinea

“Dear Heroes: I am so moved by your life and activism and stories. My heart is full and your smiles are tattooed on my soul. Be safe in your travels home. Blessings.” – Indrani Goradia, Indranis Light Foundation, USA

WHY A TREATY: Russia Decriminalizes Domestic Violence

Recent changes to Russian law demonstrate need for a treaty


In early February, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed legislation that decriminalized some forms of domestic violence. Everywoman Everywhere Coalition members—Russian attorney Mari Davtyan and longtime Russian activist Marina Pisklakova-Parker—share what this means for Russian women and how a treaty would help.


Mari DavtyanAttorney Mari Davtyan works with the Russian National Center for Prevention of Violence, also known as Center Anna, to promote women’s right, among other groups working on campaigns to end discrimination and promote human rights:

The first two months after decriminalization show us the situation with access to justice for survivors of domestic violence has become worse. Among other things, the lack of an administrative procedure permit judges dismiss cases or only fine the offenders, give them community service or up to 15 days in custody. Rights of victims are very limited. For example, victims don’t have a right or a vehicle to express complaint. Police officers claim that decriminalization has made their work more complicated and slow.

Today the first act of battery is considered an offense. A second act is considered criminal if it’s done within a year of the first offense. But even then, it remains “private prosecution.” Private prosecution means cases are not investigated by the police, the charge is not introduced by a prosecutor, and the victim is her own private counsel who must independently investigate the crime, collect evidence, and prosecute the case in court. This renders justice for domestic violence survivors completely ineffective.

Russia is a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but it often ignores its obligations under international law. Even if it did, the treaty itself is not specific to violence against women. We can only point to the recommendations of the committee that monitor implementation, which are not legally binding. Furthermore, the committee expressed its concern that cases of violence against women are a private matter. A new, global treaty would give myself, other lawyers and advocates the legal tool we lack to pressure our government to strengthen our national laws on domestic violence. It could also help ensure that women and girls who are survivors of violence have access to immediate means of redress and protection, and that perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished.


Marina-PisklakovaMarina Pisklákova-Parker is the director and founder of Center Anna, Russia’s first hotline and crisis center for survivors of domestic violence:

The change to decriminalization is also bad in terms of public perception and awareness. It sent a signal to society that domestic violence is a norm for Russia. And there is fear it increased incidents of violence, as there was an increase in the number of cases reported in some regions of up to two times.

Working on domestic violence has become more difficult for women’s organizations. In an environment of governmental neglect and an aggressive stance against addressing violence against women, the level of threat for women-activists is now higher. Women’s human rights activists always had a double threat, one from the government, and another from the conservative patriarchal part of society that resists our efforts. Now, with less legal recourse, it becomes in a way more legitimate to attack activists and women’s NGOs in the media and via threats. A treaty could help create a global climate that views domestic violence as a criminal act, not a family matter.

The Recommendations Are In!

Global approach leading to a more effective treaty


More than a year ago, women around the world formed committees to begin the difficult process of determining what, specifically, should be included in a global treaty on violence against women. Did it need a clearer definition of violence? A list of types of violence? How could the treaty address the implementation issues other treaties have faced? And what tools and examples could help nations better prevent violence in the first place?

The 124 women and men on the committees brought a wide-range of experience and points of view. They consisted of advocates, policy experts, practitioners, researchers and survivors from 50 countries—Sierra Leone to Pakistan, Mexico to China. “It has been all too common for treaties to be developed by a small group of people, which limits the perspectives and therefore the effectiveness of the treaty,” says Millicent Bogert, an Everywoman Everywhere volunteer who helped coordinate meetings. “An international approach is more rigorous, impactful, and even more ‘ratifiable,’ when is informed by the knowledge and expertise of women in all corners of the globe.”

The global approach adds what has been missing from past efforts: voices from the grassroots. When traditional top-down pressure is met with the force of women and men in each country pushing their governments to improve responses to and prevention of violence against women and girls, a treaty has a greater chance of being effective.

Committees met via teleconference under five umbrella topics—types of violence, vulnerable groups, life stages, prevention and implementation (see below for a full list). Members presented what they’d found digging into previous treaties and spent the bulk of their time weighing language and defining terms. What falls under “domestic violence”? What qualifies as a “conflict”? The result was a “wish list” for the treaty—17 detailed memos on what’s needed in a global treaty on violence against women.

The full 386-page document is now in the hands of the Drafting Committee, which will spend a year reviewing and integrating the key findings in to a core platform. The core platform will then be sent to 1,000 additional experts for input before official drafting begins.

A huge thanks and Bravo! for the groundbreaking work done by each member of the Expert Committees:

TYPES OF VIOLENCE: Simi Kamal (and Zainab), Pakistan; Marina Pisklákova-Parker, Russia; Ghada Hammam, Egypt; Katarzyna Sękowska-Kozłowska, Poland; Virginia Muwanigwa, Zimbabwe; Tanyi Christian, Cameroon; Cristina Ricci, Australia; Ghada Hammam, Egypt; Uuree Uuriintsolmon, Mongolia; Sopheap Ros, Cambodia; Sheena Kanwar, Singapore; Adolf Awuku Bekoe, Ghana; Valerie Khan, Pakistan; Pei Yuxin, China; Taskin Fahmina, Bangladesh; Monica McWilliams, Ireland; Jeanne Sarson, Canada; Peg Hacskaylo, USA; Dr. Denise Kindschi Gosselin, USA; Khedija Arfaoui, Tunisia; Katarzyna Sękowska-Kozłowska, Poland; Kelly Jones (Burundi), USA; Angela Hefti, Switzerland; Hauwa Shekarau, Nigeria; Anyieth D’Awol, South Sudan; Manizha Naderi, Afghanistan; Virginia Muwanigwa, Zimbabwe; Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Nigeria; Joanna Smętek, Poland; Gaby Razafindrakoto, Madagascar; Reena Tandon, Canada; Laurie Tannous, Canada; Tanyi Christian, Cameroon; Jo-Anne Dusel, Canada; Shawn MacDonald, USA; Michal Sela, Israel; Orit Sulitzeanu, Israel; Carolyn Rodehau, USA; David Wofford, USA; VULNERABLE GROUPS COMMITTEE: Violeta Momcilovic, Serbia;  Alice Nenneh James, Sierra Leone; Debbie Gross, Israel; Reem Abbas, Sudan; Stephanie Baric , USA ; Zainab Umu Kamara, Sierra Leone; Sandra Johansson, Spain; Reem Abbas, Sudan; Heidi Guldbaek, Australia; Caroline Herewini, New Zealand; Hazel Hape, New Zealand; Ruth Howlett, New Zealand; Anne Todd, New Zealand; Dorinda Cox, Australia; Kelly Stoner, USA; Kamilia Kura, Sudan; Kabann Kabananukye, Uganda; Yolanda Munoz Gonzalez, Canada; Martha Jean Baker, England; Martha Tholanah, Zimbabwe; Gcebile Ndlovu, Swaziland; Talent Jumo, Zimbabwe; Ricky Nathanson, Zimbabwe; Erika Castellanos, Belize; Miriam Banda/Kateka, Zambia; Truffy Maginnis, Adelaide; Margie Charlesworth, Australia; Savina Nongebatu, Solomon Islands; Yolanda Munoz Gonzalez, Canada; Truffy Maginnis, Australia; Stephanie Ortoleva, USA; Cristina Ricci, Australia; LIFE STAGES, Obioma Nwaorgu, Nigeria; Azra Abdul Cader, Sri Lanka; Munara Beknazarova, Kyrgyzstan; Fadoua Bakhadda, Morocco; Anu Radha, India; Safeer Ullah Khan, Pakistan; Keerty Nakray, India; Stephanie Kennedy, USA; Margaret Owen, England; Judy Lear, USA; Patricia Brownell, USA; Eleanor Nwadinobi, Nigeria; Helen Hamlin, USA; Meera Khanna, India; Lois Herman, Italy; Asmaa Al Ameen, Iraq; Heather Ibraham-Leathers, USA; Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Nigeria; Aabha Chaudhury, India; Sara Winkowski, USA; Ferdous Ara Begum, Bangladesh; IMPLEMENTATION, Francisco Rivera, USA; Ronagh McQuigg, Ireland; Stephanie Willman Bordat, Morocco; Laura Nyirinkindi, Uganda; Gulnara Mammadova, Azerbaijan; Vanessa Bettinson, UK; Shazia Choudhry, UK; Rhona Modesto San Pedro, Philippines; Amy Barrow, Hong Kong; Petra Butler, New Zealand; Tevita Seruilumi, Fiji; Claire Hammerton, Australia; Felicity Gerry, Australia; Karen Willis, Australia; Joyce Hewett, Jamaica; Natalie Wade, Australia; Dinah Adiko, Ghana; David L Richards, USA; Cristina Ricci, Australia; PREVENTION: Gladys Mbuyah Luku, Cameroon; Medea Khmelidze, Georgia; Margaret Nwagbo, Nigeria; Manisha Desai, USA; Zynab Binta Senesie, Sierra Leone; Lu Pin, China; Vanessa Coria, Mexico; Suntariya Muanpawong, Thailand; Halah Eldoseri, Saudi Arabia; Susan Harris Rimmer, Australia; Lisa Hoffman, USA; Sisi Liu, Hong Kong; Ann-Marie Loebel, Australia; Heidi Guldbaek, Australia; EVERYWOMAN EVERYWHERE SUPPORTING TEAM MEMBERS: Natalie Eslick, Australia; Caitlin O’Quinn, USA; Maria Pachon, USA; Seden Anlar, Turkey; Victoria O’Neil, USA; Amany Elgarf, Egypt; Rachel Uemoto, USA; Vidya Sri, USA; Millicent Bogert, USA.



Types of Violence: Domestic Violence, Non-State Torture, State Sponsored Violence, Trafficking and Slavery, and Workplace Violence

Vulnerable Groups: Violence in Conflict, Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls, Violence Against Disabled Women and Girls, Inclusive groups, which focused on women and girls living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers and LBTQI women and girls

Life Stages: Violence Against Girls and Students, Violence Against Older Women, and Violence Against Widows of All Ages

Prevention: Advocacy / Rights-Based, and Training and Mandatory Education

Implementation: Implementation Assessment, Governing Bodies

The Man Issue – Postcards from Kyrgyzstan

In response to our resent newsletter, ‘The Man Issue’, Asia Working Group Member Munara Beknazarova kindly shared postcards developed by her organization, Open Line, featuring men taking a stand againstмужчины_Page_08 мужчины_Page_01 мужчины_Page_02 мужчины_Page_03 мужчины_Page_05 мужчины_Page_07 VAW.




Case in Point: The Boy Effect

the boy effect







How boy’s and men’s education is proving an effective intervention in preventing violence against women.

How do you change millennia old norms that encourage gross violations of women’s human rights? That is the ever elusive billion-dollar question. While the research on effective interventions is scant at best, a recent research review published in The Lancet points to some promising answers, some surprising. For instance, experts attribute a 53% decrease in intimate partner violence in the United States between 1993 and 2008 to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which allocated billions to prevention and community based programs.

Of the few interventions worldwide studied with scientific rigor, some of the most promising targeted boys and men either with women’s rights education, or as integrated into other programming, such as micro-lending or HIV education.

1. School-based programs focused on dating violence showed significant results compared to control groups in “reductions in both perpetration and victimization of dating violence in both boys and girls in the intervention groups.” While programs aimed at reforming perpetrators still show very few successes.

2. When a boys education program developed in Brazil was implemented in India, participants were two to five times less likely to report sexual or physical intimate partner violence than the control group. While similar programs in Ethiopia and the Balkans did not show statistically significant results, the study suggests this may be due to differences in the “intensity and duration of the intervention.” More research may reveal what elements of these programs are most promising.

3. In Cote d’Ivoire when men and women together regularly attended economic empowerment groups that included education on violence against women, physical intimate partner violence was significantly reduced.

4. Randomized trials of multi-faceted SASA! program in Kampala, Uganda showed a 54% reduction in intimate partner violence.

While these studies are extremely limited, and raise vital questions about attitude versus behavior change, they nonetheless hold promise: That elusive norm change is possible, when men and women alike are educated and fully engaged in solutions.

What could this mean for Everywoman Everywhere? In our initial surveys with experts on potential treaty content, prevention and education tops the list. What if governments entered legally binding obligations to fund mass-scale women’s rights education, informed by the best research, catered to local contexts, and delivered through local partners, targeting men and women alike? If these initial studies are any indication, it seems it just might take us a fair bit down the road to curbing atrocities against women and girls, everywhere.

For more on this topic, read Prevention of violence against women and girls: What does the evidence say? The Lancet, Nov. 2014.

Image credit Jennifer Newsom, in her film The Mask You Live In.

Case in Point: Maria da Pehna vs. Brazil

The Inter-American Human Rights System and Violence Against Women: Norms, Compliance Mechanisms, Jurisprudence, Implementation, Lessons Learned, and Recommendations

International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University School of Law
Clinic Director: Francisco Rivera
Supervising Attorney: Britton Schwartz


“In 2001, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided María da Penha v. Brazil – the first decision where the Inter-American Human Rights System applied the Convention of Belém do Pará, as well as the first case where the Commission analyzed domestic violence against women as a human rights violation. This case is also significant because it demonstrates the effectiveness of the Commission’s individual complaint mechanism in pushing Brazil to make significant changes in its legal framework on domestic violence as a direct response to the Commission’s recommendations in this decision. Both the case and the reforms adopted by Brazil highlight the need for an integrated approach towards addressing the systemic problems – such as ineffective prosecutions of abusers – that contribute to individual acts of violence against women.”

Read the full report

Rashida’s Parting Words

June 2015 marked the end of Rashida Manjoo’s tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, and true to form, her powerful final report ends with a bold call to action: “Transformative change requires a shift in thinking as regards normativity, and it requires commitment, courage and an ethic of care that supersedes vested interests and entrenched territorial positions. Change requires the challenging of the status quo, including the continued recourse to arguments that were used 20 years ago to avoid addressing the normative gap under international human rights law. Transformative change requires that the words and actions of States reflect an acknowledgement that violence against women is a human rights violation, in and of itself and, more importantly, it requires a commitment by States to be bound by specific legal obligations in the quest to prevent and eliminate such violence.”

Click here to read the report in full

“What My Religion Really Says About Women.” ALAA MURABIT’s Powerful TED Talk

Bravo to peace expert, women’s right’s activist, and Everywoman Everywhere Middle East Working Group Member Alaa Murabit for her powerful TED Talk at TED Women 2015 in May: “Strong faith is a core part of Alaa Murabit’s identity — but when she moved from Canada to Libya as a young woman, she was surprised how the tenets of Islam were used to severely limit women’s rights, independence and ability to lead. She wondered: Was this really religious doctrine? With humor, passion and a refreshingly rebellious spirt, she shares how she found examples of female leaders across the history of her faith — and how she speaks up for women using verses from the Koran.”

Why a Treaty? Puja Kapai

Presented 4th March, 2015

Puja KapaiI wanted to look at this question from the perspective of what the CEDAW does not offer or what existing frameworks do not offer, and how that can help drive an argument for why we need a dedicated treaty for violence against women.

CEDAW doesn’t expressly mention VAW. Despite this, advocates have long relied on the treaty and its various provisions as indirectly signaling a call for an end to violence. The argument was predicated on the basis that in order to meet the CEDAW obligations a state part must necessarily address any barriers or impediments to women’s access to a full range of rights that are enshrined in CEDAW. In these circumstances the focus of CEDAW’s articles is being on achieving equality and non-discrimination, as without freedom from violence women would not be able to enjoy these fundamental rights. Advocates frequently use Article 5 which speaks to the issue of culture and tradition impacting equality as a systemic issue whereviolence is condoned in a particular cultural context. To supplement these arguments advocates refer to the general recommendation 19 which is very useful and very comprehensive, and has formed the bulk of the advocacy work withinthis framework. In 1993 the first international human rights document that was dedicated to the subject of VAW was passed as a Resolution of the UN – the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women – it is a fairly comprehensive document again, which would serve as a useful reference point for any treaty drafted. The declaration identified and defined relevant issues pertaining to VAW in all its manifestations. It is a progressive and groundbreaking document that followed the CEDAW and mapped out the concerns we’ve seen arising in the context of work relating to VAW. Despite these resources, there has been little success in bringing states to account effectively, especially given rising figures pertaining to VAW around the world. State parties often argue that their criminal and civil laws adequately provide for a protective framework and remedies against such violence, and that any violence that continues to be perpetrated is a social problem that needs to be tackled, and that they aredoing as much as possible in terms of the law.

However, pitching violence as a form of discrimination against women, and thereby undermining equal access to otherrights, is not the strongest argument to compel states into action to eradicate violence. The perpetration of violence is systemic and structural. Culture as well as the way in which society and its institutions are organised perpetuate these structural and systemic hierarchies of domination in the social sphere and personal sphere. To rely on discrimination as a route to tackle violence, therefore, fails to broach the issue head-on: that violence and the systems that enable its perpetuation or manifestation without redress is unacceptable, not for its discriminatory impact on women but for various other significant reasons grounded in our preexisting human rights commitments, including inherent dignity of all human beings. Thus, the present framework represents only a tangential link between the CEDAW framework and what we’re seeking to achieve insofar as our goal is to hold states accountable for recognising violence in its various manifestations and addressing violence against women comprehensively and effectively. What we are looking for is a comprehensive framework that can address each aspect of political and social life that contributes to the vulnerability of women in general but also, particular groups of women, and their being prone to being victims of violence. Discrimination is not the strongest argument to rely on, and yet these are the terms that the existing discourse is largely limited to because of the framing of VAW under the CEDAW framework given that it is not specifically addressed. In these circumstances, the argument would be that a treaty dedicated to VAW would serve a distinct and focused purpose but would also be multifaceted in its coverage of a range issues pertaining to VAW and be concerned with outcome-oriented approaches to justice in response to VAW and its eradication.

What will such a treaty look like? How will it address these fundamental gaps in the discourse? A binding treaty will concretize emerging customary international consensus on responsibility to protect vulnerable groups, which we have seen emerging over the last decade or so, particularly for women and girls. By institutionalizing the principle to protect within a treaty, you then have a mechanism to hold the state parties accountable to the high standards laid out in the treaty, and that mechanism would then ensure more systematic and coherent processes for accountabilitycompared to what we see currently in the reporting process, where VAW is reported as part and parcel of the CEDAW framework or other international treaty instruments that states are a party to. The treaty itself would imbibe a mechanism to be used as a tool for evaluating state performance in relation to the different aspects of the responsibility to protect women and girls from a range of types of VAW from time to time during the reporting cycle, to have a more targeted review of states fulfilling obligations than what we have at the moment. Such a principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ would entail a need to put in motion various institutions and processes including prevention strategies, education, legal protections that comply with high international standards on prohibition against violence, prosecution processes and incorporate access to justice, punishment for violations of these laws and reparations to the victims in response to the wrong done and harm suffered. So you have a stage by stage, systematic approach that outlines with some precision the role of the state in striving to eliminate violence, to educate about violence, to protect women through particular approaches, and to make it the responsibility of the state machinery to ensure that justice is done where such violence is perpetrated. If the state fails to provide such an institutional framework for protection and reparations, the state should recognise that it will be help accountable for having failed in its international responsibility to its citizens in this regard. Such a treaty would highlight the key components for an approach that will inculcate a stronger degree of accountability, and it will begin with a legal definition of what constitutes violence. At the moment we only have definitions encapsulated in the documents of the WHO and the Declaration onVAW, but these are non-binding instruments and leaves it to states to determine whether to include all components of the international definitions into their legislative framework. On the other hand, the treaty would ensure greater compliance because it would provide an exact reference point in terms of various aspects of violence that are required to be addressed within the state framework if you are a party to that treaty. In one sense, it may be said that the treaty would serve to bring together in one place the emerging consensus in relation to the customary international legal principle pertaining to stateobligations to protect women and girls against violence.

Moreover, the treaty would be instrumental in identifying the typical barriers to help seeking that are problems across various victim groups, and I think this is a really fundamental point, because it is something that affects all frameworks around the world regardless of how good they are because you could have model legislation that looks great on paper, but we’re beginning to realise there are a numerous barriers that do not account for the substantive impact of the laws, the social and political context, and the situation of women victims and their ability to avail of these systems. The treaty should contain provisions on substantive obligations toensure that institutional and policy approaches account for these barriers and make their systems more accessible, so that these are not mere paper protections. In that way, a dedicated treaty could outline a specific impact of economic, educational, social, cultural, gender, language, health, immigration status, racial, religious and other factors that impact help seeking currently and the understanding of violence and access to state machinery. This wouldoblige states to provide a more sensitised system and set of institutions to ensure that the impact of these factors insofar as they impede access to the institutions for protection is minimized as far as possible. This is not something that any of the treaties do at the moment. This is why state parties report that they have adequate laws to ensure protection and punishment. Therefore, the current reporting process leaves much to be desired because although committee members often question states as to how a particular norm operates in their social and legal context, but the states are not pressed hard enough on these barriers, and how they intersect to impede justice for women and make violence such a big problem. This may also indicate the need to institutionalise in the treaty an obligation on all state parties to collect and report data in relation to access to justice, the number and groups of women who seek information about and assistance for violence against women,etc., including outcomes of cases filed.

Such a treaty would also more broadly identify international best practices pertaining to implementation of a rigorous protection system and service provision. There are numerous examples globally that could inform the treaty drafting process. For example, it could set a standard provision for budget allocation to tackle VAW, in terms of percentage of countries GDP for example. It could call for a review on a periodic basis for submission to the treaty body in between tworeporting cycles. It could make it mandatory for the state to collect the data related to violence against women and require that such data be disaggregated by key variables to identify high-risk groups within their country. A more targeted approach to rooting out violence at the state level can be facilitated in this manner by examining each stage in the cycle of violence and help seeking through to justice. Finally, essentially the most compelling and crucial justification in my view, is that given the extremely high rates ofprevalence of violence in all countries around the world, the current mechanisms are evidently too indirect and therefore, ill-suited to this particular purpose and accordingly, inadequate to resolve the endemic problem. The current approach doesn’t go deep enough. The factors that contribute toprevalence of violence vary across countries are really deep rooted in history, traditions, and cultural frameworks and are greatly impacted by governance issues at the state level in general. We need a programmatic approach that deals with the VAW issue comprehensively and exhaustively in a single treaty, so that it can substantively address all of these issues in as exhaustive amanner as possible by drawing on the systemic failings and root causes of VAW that we have borne witness to. The current piecemeal approach doesn’t come close to offering a comprehensive framework to tackle such a deep-rooted problem. The primary justification for such a treaty therefore lies in the very fact that the discrimination-based approach to eradication of VAW is not specific or strong enough, and we need a more multidimensional and multi-level approach in order to tackle violence against women on all fronts.

Puja Kapai

Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law and the Director of the Social Justice Summer Internship at the Faculty of the Law at the University of Hong Kong